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Quamquam ab his philosophiam et omnes ingenuas disciplinas 
habemus : sed tamen est aliquid quod nobis non liceat, liceat illis 


VOL. I. 



( The rights of translation and of ref reduction are rescrveil) 




J. B. B. 


A CONSIDERABLE portion of the present work, comprising 
the whole of the first volume and the first two chapters of the 
second, is reprinted with corrections and additions from the 
Westminster Review. The last chapter of the second volume 
has already appeared under a slightly different title in Mind 
for January and April 1882. The chapters entitled, 'The 
Sceptics and Eclectics,' ' The Religious Revival,' and ' The 
Spiritualism of Plotinus,' are now published for the first 

The subject of Greek philosophy is so vast that, in 
England at least, it has become customary to deal with it in 
detached portions rather than as a connected whole. This 
method has its advantages, but it has also its drawbacks. 
The critic who singles out some one thinker for special study 
is apt to exaggerate the importance of his hero and to credit 
him with the origination of principles which were really 
borrowed from his predecessors. Moreover, the appearance 
of a new idea can only be made intelligible by tracing the 
previous tendencies which it either continues, combines, or 
contradicts. In a word, the history of philosophy has itself a 
philosophy which requires that we should go beyond par- 
ticular phenomena and view them as variously related parts 
of a single system. 

viii PREFACE. 

The history of Greek philosophy, whether conceived in 
this comprehensive sense or as an erudite investigation into 
matters of detail, is a province which the Germans have made 
peculiarly their own ; and, among German scholars. Dr. 
Zeller is the one who has treated it with most success. My 
obligations to his great work are sufficiently shown by the 
copious references to it which occur throughout the following 
pages. It is in those instances — and they are, unfortunately, 
very numerous —where our knowledge of particular philo- 
sophers and of their opinions rests on fragmentary or second- 
hand information, that I have found his assistance most valu- 
able. This has especially been the case with reference to the 
pre-Socratic schools, the minor successors of Socrates, the 
earlier Stoics, the Sceptics, and the later Pythagoreans. I 
must, however, guard against the supposition that my work is, 
in any respect, a popularisation or abridgment of Zeller's. 
To popularise Zeller would, indeed, be an impertinence, for 
nothing can be more luminous and interesting than his style 
and general mode of exposition. Nor am I playing the part 
of a finder to a large telescope ; for my point of view by no 
means coincides with that of the learned German historian. 
Thus, while my limits have obliged me to be content with a 
very summary treatment of many topics which he has dis- 
cussed at length, there are others, and those, in my opinion, 
not the least important, to which he has given less space than 
will be found allotted to them here. On several questions, 
also, I have ventured to controvert his opinions, notably with 
reference to the Sophists, Socrates, Aristotle, and Plotinus. 
My general way of looking at the Greeks and their philosophy 
also differs from his. And the reasons which have led me to 
follow an independent course in this respect involve consider- 


ations of such interest and importance, that I shall take the 
liberty of specifying them in some detail. 

Stated briefly, Zeller's theory of ancient thought is that 
the Greeks originally lived in harmony with Nature ; that 
the bond was broken by philosophy and particularly by the 
philosophy of Socrates ; that the discord imperfectly overcome 
by Plato and Aristotle revealed itself once more in the un- 
reconciled, self- concentrated subjectivity of the later schools ; 
that this hopeless estrangement, after reaching its climax in 
the mysticism of the Neo-Platonists, led to the complete 
collapse of independent speculation ; and that the creation of 
a new consciousness by the advent of Christianity and of the 
Germanic races was necessary in order to the successful re- 
sumption of scientific enquiry. Zeller was formerly a Hege- 
lian, and it seems to me that he still retains far too much of 
the Hegelian formalism in his historical constructions. The 
well-worked antithesis between object and subject, even after 
being revised in a positivist sense, is totally inadequate to the 
burden laid on it by this theory ; and if we want really to 
understand the causes which first hampered, then arrested, and 
finally paralysed Greek philosophy, we must seek for them in 
a more concrete order of considerations. Zeller, with perfect 
justice, attributes the failure of Plato and Aristotle to their 
defective observation of Nature and their habit of regarding 
the logical combinations of ideas derived from the common 
use of words as an adequate representative of the relations 
obtaining among things in themselves. But it seems an 
extremely strained and artificial explanation to say that their 
shortcomings in this respect were due to a confusion of the 
objective and the subjective, consequent on the imperfect 
separation of the Greek mind from Nature — a confusion, it is 


added, which only the advent of a new religion and a new 
race could overcome.' It is unfair to make Hellenism as a 
whole responsible for fallacies which might easily be paralleled 
in the works of modern metaphysicians ; and the unfairness 
will become still more evident when we remember that, after 
enjoying the benefit of Christianity and Germanism for a 
thousand years, the modern world had still to take its first 
lessons in patience of observation, in accuracy of reasoning, 
and in sobriety of expression from such men as Thucydides 
and Hippocrates, Polybius, Archimedes and Hipparchus, 
Even had the Greeks as a nation been less keen to distinguish 
between illusion and reality than their successors up to the 
sixteenth century — a supposition notoriously the reverse of 
true — it would still have to be explained why Plato and 
Aristotle, with their prodigious intellects, went much further 
astray than their predecessors in the study of Nature. And 
this Zeller's method does not explain at all. 

Again, I think that Zeller quite misconceives the relation 
between Greek philosophy and Greek life when he attributes 
the intellectual decline of the post- Aristotelian period, in part 
at least, to the simultaneous ruin of public spirit and political 
independence. The degeneracy of poetry and art, of elo- 
quence and history, may perhaps be accounted for in this 
way, but not the relaxation of philosophical activity. On the 
contrary, the disappearance of political interests was of all 
conditions the most favourable to speculation, as witness the 
lonians, Democritus, and Aristotle. Had the independence 
and power of the great city-republics been prolonged much 
further, it is probable — as the example of the Sophists and 
Socrates seems to show — that philosophy would have become 

' Die FhilosopJiic dcr Grid hen, III., a, pp. 5 f. 


still more absorbingly moral and practical than it actually 
became in the Stoic, Epicurean, and Sceptical schools. And 
theoretical studies did, in fact, receive a great impulse from 
the Macedonian conquest, a large fund of intellectual energy 
being diverted from public affairs to the pursuit of know- 
ledge, only it took the direction of positive science rather 
than of general speculation.* 

The cause which first arrested and finally destroyed the 
free movement of Greek thought was not any intrinsic limita- 
tion or corruption of the Greek genius, but the ever-increasing 
preponderance of two interests, both tending, although in 
different ways and different degrees, to strengthen the prin- 
ciple of authority and to enfeeble the principle of reason. 
One was the theological interest, the other was the scholastic 
interest. The former was the more conspicuous and the 
more mischievous of the two. From the persecution of 
Anaxagoras to the prohibition of philosophical teaching by 
Justinian, we may trace the rise and spread of a reaction to- 
wards superstition, sometimes advancing and sometimes re- 
ceding, but, on the whole, gaining ground from age to age, 
until from the noontide splendour of Pericles we pass to 
that long night which stretches in almost impenetrable dark- 
ness down to the red and stormy daybreak of the Crusades. 
And it was a reaction which extended through all classes, 
including the philosophers themselves. It seems to me that 
where the Athenian school, from Socrates on, fall short of their 
predecessors, as in some points they unquestionably do, their 
inferiority is largely due to this cause. Its influence is very 
perceptible in weakening the speculative energies of those 

* If I remember rightly, Polybius makes the same observation, but I cannot 
recall the exact reference. 


who stand at the greatest distance from the popular beliefs. 
It was because dislike for theology occupied so large a place 
in the thoughts of Epicurus and his disciples, that they valued 
science only as a refutation of its teaching, instead of regard- 
ing it simply as an obstacle to be removed from the path of 
enquiry. More than this ; they became infected with the 
spirit of that against which they fought, and their absolute 
indifference to truth was the shadow which it cast on their 

The theological interest and the scholastic interest, though 
not necessarily associated, have, as already observed, a point 
of contact in their common exaltation of authority. Thus, 
for our present purpose they may be classified under the 
more general notion of traditionalism. By this term I under- 
stand a disposiHon to accept as true opinions received either 
by the mass of mankind or by the best accredited teachers, 
and to throw these opinions into a form adapted for easy 
transmission to others. In this sense, traditionalism is Janus- 
faced, looking on one side to the past and on the ether to 
the future. Now philosophy could only gain general accept- 
ance by becoming a tradition. For a long time the Greek 
thinkers busied themselves almost exclusively with the dis- 
covery of truth, remaining comparatively indifferent to its 
diffusion. As Plato says, they went their own way without 
caring whether they took us along with them or not.^ And 
it was at this period that the most valuable speculative ideas 
were first originated. At last a strong desire arose among the 
higher classes to profit by the results of the new learning, 
and a class of men came into existence whose profession was 
to gratify this desire. But the Sophists, as they were called, 

' Sophist, 243, A. 

PREFACE. xiii 

soon found that lessons in the art of life were more highly- 
appreciated and more liberally rewarded than lessons in the 
constitution of Nature. Accordingly, with the facile ingenuity 
of Greeks, they set to work proving, first that Nature could not 
be known, and finally that there was no such thing as Nature 
at all. The real philosophers were driven to secure their 
position by a change of front. They became teachers them- 
selves, disguising their lessons, however, under the form of a 
search after truth undertaken conjointly with their friends, 
who, of course, were not expected to pay for the privilege of 
giving their assistance, and giving it for so admirable a pur- 
pose. In this co-operative system, the person who led the con- 
versation was particularly careful to show that his conclusions 
followed directly from the admissions of his interlocutors, 
being, so to speak, latent in their minds, and only needing a 
little obstetric assistance on his part to bring them into the 
light of day. And the better to rivet their attention, he chose 
for the subject of discussion questions of human interest, or 
else, when the conversation turned to physical phenomena, he 
led the way towards a teleological or aesthetical interpretation 
of their meaning. 

Thus, where Zeller says that the Greek philosophers con- 
founded the objective with the subjective because they were 
still imperfectly separated from Nature, we seem to have come 
on a less ambitious but more intelligible explanation of the 
facts, and one capable of being stated with as much generality 
as his. Not only among the Greeks but everywhere, culture 
is more or less antagonistic to originality, and the diffusion to 
the enlargement of knowledge. Thought is like water ; when 
spread over a wider surface it is apt to become stagnant and 
shallow. When ideas could only live on the condition of 


being communicated to a large circle of listeners, they were 
necessarily adapted to the taste and lowered to the compre- 
hension of relatively vulgar minds. And not only so, but the 
habit of taking their opinions and prejudices as the starting- 
point of every enquiry frequently led to the investment of 
those opinions and prejudices with the formal sanction of a 
philosophical demonstration. It was held that education 
consisted less in the acquisition of new truth than in the ele- 
vation to clearer consciousness of truths which had all along 
been dimly perceived. 

To the criticism and systematisation of common language 
and common opinion succeeded the more laborious criticism 
and systematisation of philosophical theories. Such an 
enormous amount of labour was demanded for the task of 
working up the materials amassed by Greek thought during 
the period of its creative originality, and accommodating 
them to the popular belief, that not much could be done in 
the way of adding to their extent. Nor was this all. Among 
the most valuable ideas of the earlier thinkers were those 
which stood in most striking opposition to the evidence of the 
senses. As such they were excluded from the system which 
had for its object the reorganisation of philosophy on the 
basis of general consent. Thus not only did thought tend to 
become stationary, but it even abandoned some of the ground 
which had been formerly won. 

Not that the vitality of Hellenic reason gave way simul- 
taneously at every point. The same independent spirit, the 
same imaginative vigour which had carried physical specula- 
tion to such splendid conquests during the first two centuries 
of its existence were manifested with equal effect when the 
energies previously devoted to Nature as a whole concentrated 


themselves on the study of conduct and belief. It was thus 
that Socrates could claim the whole field of human life for 
scientific treatment, and create the method by which it has ever 
since been most successfully studied. It was thus that Plato 
could analyse and ideally reconstruct all practices, institutions, 
and beliefs. It was thus that Aristotle, while definitely arrest- 
ing the progress of research, could still complete the method 
and create the language through which the results of new 
research have been established, recognised, and communicated 
ever since. It was thus that the Stoics advanced from para- 
dox to paradox until they succeeded in co-ordinating morality 
for all time by reference to the three fundamental ideas of 
personal conscience, individual obligation, and universal 
humanity. And not only were dialectics and ethics at first 
animated by the same enterprising spirit as speculative 
physics, but their very existence as recognised studies must be 
ascribed to its decay, to the revolution through which philo- 
sophy, from being purely theoretical, became social and 
didactic. While in some directions thought was made 
stationary and even retrogressive by the very process of its 
diffusion, in other directions this diffusion was the cause of its 
more complete development. Finally, ethics and logic were 
reduced to a scholastic routine, and progress continued to be 
made only in the positive sciences, until, here also, it was 
brought to an end by the triumph of superstition and bar- 
barism combined. 

If the cessation of speculative activity among the Greeks 
needs to be accounted for by something more definite than 
phrases about the objective and the subjective, so also does 
its resumption among the nations of modern Europe. This 
may be explained by two different circumstances — the disap- 


pearance of the obstacles which had long opposed themselves 
to the free exercise of reason, and the stimulus given to 
enquiry by the Copernican astronomy. After spreading over 
the whole basin of the Mediterranean, Hellenic culture had 
next to repair the ravages of the barbarians, and, chiefly under 
the form of Christianity, to make itself accepted by the new 
nationalities which had risen on the ruins of the Roman 
empire. So arduous a task was sufficient to engross, during 
many centuries, the entire intellectual energies of Western 
Europe. At last the extreme limits of diffusion were pro- 
visionally reached, and thought once more became available 
for the discovery of new truth. Simultaneously with this 
consummation, the great supernaturalist reaction, having also 
reached its extreme limits, had so far subsided, that Nature 
could once more be studied on scientific principles, with less 
freedom, indeed, than in old Ionia, but still with tolerable 
security against the vengeance of interested or fanatical 
opponents. And at the very same conjuncture it was shown 
by the accumulated observations of many ages that the con- 
ception of the universe on which the accepted philosophy 
rested must be replaced by one of a directly opposite de- 
scription. I must confess that in this vast revolution the rela- 
tion between the objective and the subjective, as reconstituted 
by Christianity and the Germanic genius, does not seem to 
me to have played a very prominent part. 

If Zeller's semi-Hegelian theory of history does scant 
justice to the variety and complexity of causes determining 
the evolution of philosophy, it also draws away attention 
from the ultimate elements, the matter, in an Aristotelian 
sense, of which that evolution consists. By this I mean the 
development of particular ideas as distinguished from the 

PREFACE. xvii 

systems into which they enter as component parts. Often 
the formation of a system depends on an accidental com- 
bination of circumstances, and therefore cannot be brought 
under any particular law of progress, while the ideas out of 
which it is constructed exhibit a perfectly regular advance on 
the form under which they last appeared. Others, again, are 
characterised by a remarkable fixity which enables them to 
persist unchanged through the most varied combinations and 
the most protracted intervals of time. But when each system 
is regarded as, so to speak, an organic individual, the com- 
plete and harmonious expression of some one phase of 
thought, and the entire series of systems as succeeding one 
another in strict logical order according to some simple law 
of evolution, there will be a certain tendency to regard the 
particular elements of each as determined by the character of 
the whole to which they belong, rather than by their intrinsic 
nature and antecedent history. And I think it is owing to 
this limitation of view that Zeller has not illustrated, so fully 
as could be desired, the subtler references by which the 
different schools of philosophy are connected with one 
another and also with the literature of their own and other 

An interesting example of the process on which I have 
just touched is offered by the reappearance and further 
elaboration of some most important Greek ideas in modern 
philosophy. In the concluding chapter of this work I have 
attempted to indicate the chief lines along which such a 
transmission may be traced. The subject is one which has 
hitherto been unduly neglected. No critic would be justified 
in describing the speculative movement of the nineteenth 
century without constant reference to the metaphysicians and 

VOL. 1. a 

xviii PREFACE. 

moralists of the two preceding centuries. Yet the dependence 
of those thinkers on the schools of antiquity is hardly less 
intimate than our dependence on Spinoza and Hume. 
Nevertheless, in no work that I am acquainted with has this 
circumstance been used to elucidate the course pursued by 
modern thought ; indeed, I may say that the persistence of 
Hellenic ideas down to the most recent times has not been 
fully recognised by any scholar except Prof. Teichmiiller, 
who has particularly devoted his attention to the history of 
conceptions as distinguished from the history of systems. 

The introduction of Teichmiiller's name affords me an 
opportunity for mentioning that my attention was not directed 
to his brilliant researches into various questions connected 
with Greek philosophy, and more particularly with the 
systems of Plato and Aristotle, until it was too late for me 
to profit by them in the present work. I allude more par- 
ticularly to his Studien zur Geschichte der Begriffe (Berlin, 
1874), and to his recently published Literarische Fehde7i im 
vierten JaJirJmndert vor Chr. (Breslau, 1881). The chief 
points of the former work are, that Plato was really a pan- 
theist or monist, not, as is commonly believed and as I have 
myself taken for granted, a dualist ; that, as a consequence 
of the suppression of individuality which characterises his 
system, he did not really accept or teach the doctrine of 
personal immortality, although he wished that the mass of 
the people should believe it ; that Plato no more attributed 
a transcendent existence to his ideas than did Aristotle to his 
substantial forms ; and that in putting an opposite inter- 
pretation on his old master's theory, Aristotle is guilty of 
gross misrepresentation. The most important point of the 
Literarische Fehden is that Aristotle published his Ethics 


while Plato was still alive and engaged in the composition of 
his Laws, and that certain passages in the latter work, of 
which one relates to free-will and the other to the unity of 
virtue (86 1, A ff. and 962 ff.) were intended as a reply to 
Aristotle's well-known criticisms on the Platonic theory of 

I have been necessarily brief in my statement of Teich- 
miiller's theses ; and to judge of them apart from the facts 
and arguments by which they are supported in the two very 
interesting volumes above named would be in the highest 
degree unfair. I feel bound, however, to mention the chief 
reasons which make me hesitate to accept his conclusions. 
It seems to me, then, that although Plato was moving in the 
direction of pantheism —as I have myself pointed out in 
more than one passage of this work — he never actually 
reached it. For (i.) he does not, like Plotinus, attempt to 
deduce his material from his ideal principle, but only blends 
without reconciling them in the world of sensible experience, 
(ii.) In opposing the perishable nature of the individual (or 
rather the particular) to the eternal nature of the universal, 
he is going on the facts of experience rather than on any 
necessary opposition between the two, and on experience of 
material or sensible objects rather than of immaterial souls ; 
while, even as regards material objects, the heavenly bodies, 
to which he attributes everlasting duration, constitute such a 
sweeping exception to his rule as entirely to destroy its 
applicability, (iii.) Plato's multiplied and elaborate argu- 
ments for the immortality of the soul would be superfluous 
were his only object to prove that the soul, like everything 
else, contains an eternal element, (iv.) The Pythagorean 
theory that the soul is a harmony, which Plato rejects, would 


have been perfectly compatible with the ideal and impersonal 
immortality which Teichmiiller supposes him to have taught ; 
for while the particular harmony perishes, the general laws of 
harmony remain, (v.) Teichmiiller does not dispose satis- 
factorily of Plato's crowning argument that the idea of life is 
as inseparable from the soul as heat from fire or cold from 
snow. He says {pp. cit., p. 134) that, on this principle, the 
individual soul may still perish, just as particular portions of 
fire are extinguished and particular portions of snow are 
melted. Yes, but portions of fire do not grow cold, nor 
portions of snow hot, which and which alone would offer an 
analogy to the extinction of a soul, 

I agree, however, with Teichmiiller that the doctrines of 
reminiscence and metempsychosis have a purely mythical 
significance, and I should have expressed my views on the 
subject with more definiteness and decision had I known that 
his authority might be quoted in their support. I think that 
Plato was in a transition state from the Oriental to what 
afterwards became the Christian theory of retribution. In 
the one he found an allegorical illustration of his metaphysics, 
in the other a very serious sanction for his ethics. He felt 
their incompatibility, but was not prepared to undertake such 
a complete reconstruction of his system as would have been 
necessitated by altogether denying the pre-existence of the 
soul. Of such vacillation Plato's later Dialogues offer, I think, 
sufficient evidence. For example, the Matter of the Timaeus 
seems to be a revised version of the Other or principle of 
division and change, which has already figured as a pure idea, 
in which capacity it must necessarily be opposed to matter. 
At the same time, I must observe that, from my point of view, 
it is enough if Plato inculcated the doctrine of a future life as 


an important element of his religious system. And that he 
did so inculcate it Teichmiiller fully admits.* 

With regard to the Nicomachean Ethics, I think Teich- 
miiller has proved this much, that it was written before 
Aristotle had read the Laws or knew of its existence. But 
this does not prove that he wrote it during Plato's lifetime, 
since the Laws was not published until after Plato's death, 
possibly not until several years after. And, published or not, 
Aristotle may very well have remained ignorant of its exist- 
ence until his return to Athens, which, according to the 
tradition, took place about 336 B.C. Teichmiiller does, indeed, 
suppose that Aristotle spent some time in Athens between 
his flight from Mitylene and his engagement as tutor to 
Alexander {Literarische Fehden, p. 261). But this theory, 
besides its purely conjectural character, would still allow the 
possibility of Aristotle's having remained unacquainted with 
the Laws up to the age of forty. And it is obvious that the 
passages which Teichmiiller interprets as replies to Aristotle's 
criticisms admit of more than one alternative explanation. 
They may have originated in doubts and difficulties which 
spontaneously suggested themselves to Plato in the course of 
his independent reflections ; or, granting that there is a 
polemic reference, it may have been provoked by some other 
critic, or by the spoken criticisms of Aristotle himself. For 
the supposition that Aristotle wrote his Ethics at the early 
age of thirty-two or thirty-three seems to me so improbable 
that we should not accept it except under pressure of the 
strongest evidence. That a work of such matured thought 
and observation should have been produced by so young a 
man is, so far as I know, a phenomenon unparalleled in the 

' See especially the interesting note on the subject in his recent work, Die 
wirkliche tind die scheinbare IVclt, Vorrede, pp x. fi 

xxii PREFACE. 

history of literature. And to this we must add the further 
circumstance that the Greek mind was not particularly- 
remarkable for precocity in any field except war and states- 
manship. We do, indeed, find instances of comparatively 
juvenile authorship, but none, I believe, of a Greek writer, 
whether poet, historian, or philosopher, who reached the full 
maturity of his powers before a considerably advanced period 
of middle age. That the Ethics is very imperfect I fully 
admit, and have expressly maintained against its numerous 
admirers in the course of this work. But, although imperfect, 
it is not crude. It contains as good a discussion of the subject 
undertaken as Aristotle was ever capable of giving, and its 
limitations are not those of an unripe intellect, but of an 
intellect at all times comparatively unsuited for the treatment 
of practical problems, and narrowed still further by the 
requirements of an elaborate speculative system. Now to 
work out this system must have demanded considerably more 
labour and independent thought than one can suppose even 
an Aristotle to have found time for before thirty-three ; while 
the experience of life shown in the Ethics is such as study, 
so far from supplying, would, on the contrary, have delayed. 
Moreover, the Rhetoric, which was confessedly written before 
the EthicSy exhibits the same qualities in about an equal 
degree, and therefore, on Teichmiiller's theory, testifies to a 
still more extraordinary precocity. And there is the further 
circumstance that while Aristotle is known to have begun his 
public career as a teacher of rhetoric, his earliest productions 
seem to have been of a rather diffuse and declamatory 
character, quite opposed to the severe concision which marks 
the style both of the Rhetoric and of the Ethics. In addition 
to these general considerations, one may mention that in a 

PREFACE, xxiii 

well-known passage of the Ethics, referring to a question of 
logical method (I., iv.), Plato is spoken of in the imperfect 
tense, which would seem to imply that he was no longer 
living when it was written. Speaking from memory, I should 
even be inclined to doubt whether the mention of a living 
writer by name at all is consistent with Aristotle's standard 
of literary etiquette. 

These are difficulties which Teichmiiller has, no doubt, 
fully weighed and put aside as not sufficiently strong to 
invalidate his conclusions. I have stated them in order to 
show that enough can be said for the old view to justify the 
republication of what was written on the assumption of its 
unquestionable truth. Moreover, researches conducted with 
so much skill and learning as those of Teichmiiller demand 
some public acknowledgment in a work like the present, even 
when the results are such that the writer cannot see his way 
to accepting them as satisfactorily made out. There are many 
English scholars more competent than I am to discuss the 
whole question at issue. Perhaps these lines may induce 
some of them to give it the attention which it merits, but 
which, in England at least, it does not seem to have as yet 

My obligations to other writers have been acknowledged 
throughout this work, so far as I was conscious of them, and 
so far as they could be defined by reference to specific points. 
I take the present opportunity for mentioning in a more 
general way the valuable assistance which I have derived 
from Schwegler's Geschichte der Griechischen Philosophiey 
Lange's Geschichte des Materialismus, and Duhring's Ge- 
schichte der Philosophic. The parallel between Socrates, 
Giordano Bruno, and Spinoza was probably suggested to me 

xxiv PREFACE. 

by Diihring, as also were some points in my characterisa- 
tion of Aristotle, As my view of the position occupied by 
Lucretius with respect to religion and philosophy differs in 
many important points from that of Prof. Sellar, it is the 
more incumbent on me to state that, but for a perusal of 
Prof. Sellar's eloquent and sympathetic chapters on the great 
Epicurean poet, my own estimate of his genius would certainly 
not have been written in its present form and would probably 
not have been written at all. 

On the whole, I am afraid that my acquaintance with the 
modern literature of the subject will be found rather limited 
for an undertaking like the present. But I do not think that 
wider leading in that direction would have much furthered the 
object I had in view. That object has been to exhibit the 
principal ideas of Greek philosophy in the closest possible 
connexion with the characters of their authors, with each 
other, with their developments in modern speculation, with 
the parallel tendencies of literature and art, with the history 
of religion, of physical science, and of civilisation as a whole. 
To interpret all things by a system of universal references is 
the method of philosophy ; when applied to a series of events 
this method is the philosophy of history ; when the events 
are ideas, it is the philosophy of philosophy itself. 






I. Strength and universality of the Greek intellect, l — Specialisation of 
individual genius, 2 — Pervading sense of harmony and union, 3 — Circumstances 
by which the intellectual character of the Greeks was determined, 3 — Philosophy 
a natural product of the Greek mind, 4 — Speculation at first limited to the external 
world, 4 — Important results achieved by the early Greek thinkers, 5 — Their con- 
ception of a cosmos first made science possible, 6 — The alleged influence of 
Oriental ideas disproved, 6. 

II. Thales was the first to offer a purely physical explanation of the world, 7 
— Why he fixed on water as the origin of all things, 8 — Great advance made by 
Anaximander, 9 — His conception of the Infinite, 9 — Anaximenes mediates between 
the theories of his two predecessors, 10 — The Pythagoreans : their love of anti- 
thesis and the importance attributed to number in their system, 11 — Connexion 
between their ethical teaching and the general religious movement of the age, 13 
— Analogy with the mediaeval spirit, 13. 

III. Xenophanes : his attacks on the popular religion, 14 — Absence of 
intolerance among the Greeks, 15 — Primitive character of the monotheism taught 
by Xenophanes, 16 — Elimination of the religious element from philosophy by 
Parmenides, 16 — His speculative innovations, 17 — He discovers the indestructi- 
bility of matter, 17 — but confuses matter with existence in general, 18 — and more 
particularly with extension, 19 — In what sense he can be called a materialist, 19 — 
Np w ar pn ^jppnft; brought forward by Zeno i n_dfifeB€€-of ^^p FlpptiV gystgm^-yn — 
The analytical or mediatorial moment of Greek thought, 21 — Influence of Par- 
menides on subsequent systems of philosophy, 22 — Diametrically opposite method 
pursued by Heracleitus, 22 — His contempt for the mass of mankind, 22 — Doctrine 
of universal relativity, 23 — Fire as the primordial element, 24 — The idea of Law 
first introduced by Heracleitus, 25 — Extremes to which his principles were after- 
wards carried, 25 — Polarisation of Greek thought, 26. 

IV. Historical order of the systems which succeeded and mediated between 
Parmenides and Heracleitus, 26- Empedocles : poetic and religious cha'acter of 


his philosophy, 27 — ^His inferiority to previous thinkers, 28 — Eclectic tendency of 
his system, 29 — In what respects it marks an advance on that of Parmenides, 
29 — His alleged anticipation of the Darwinian theory, 30 — The fixity of species a 
doctrine held by every ancient philosopher except Anaximander, 31 — The theory 
of knowledge put forward by Empedocles : its objective and materialistic character, 
32 — How it suggested the Atomic theory, 33 — The possibility of a vacuum denied 
by Parmenides and asserted by Leucippus, 34 — The Atomic theory developed and 
applied by Democritus : encyclopaedic range of his studies, 35 — His complete re- 
jection of the supernatural, 36. 

V. Anaxagoras at Athens, 36— He is accused of impiety and compelled to 
fly, 37 — Analysis of his system, 38 — Its mechanical and materialistic tendency, 39 
— Separation of Nous from the rest of Nature, 40 — In denying the divinity of the 
heavenly bodies, Anaxagoras opposed himself to the universal faith of antiquity, 
40 — The exceptional intolerance of the Athenians and its explanation, 42— Tran- 
sition frojn physical to dialectical and ethical philosophy, 43, 

VI. Early Greek thought as manifested in literature and art, 45 — The genea- 
logical method of Hesiod and Herodotus, 47 — The search for first causes in Pindar 
and Aeschylus, 48 — Analogous tendencies of sculpture and architecture, 49 — 
Combination of geographical with genealogical studies, 50 — The evolution of order 
from chaos suggested by the negative or antithetical moment of Greek thought, 50 
— Verifiable and fruitful character of early Greek thought, 52. 



I. The reaction of speculation on life, 53 — Moral superiority of the Greeks to 
the Hebrews and Romans, 54 — Illustrations of humanity from the Greek poets, 
55 — Temporary corruption of moral sentiment and its explanation, 56 — Subsequent 
reformation effected by philosophy, 57 — The Greek worship of beauty not incom- 
patible with a high moral standard, 58 — Preference of the solid to the showy 
virtues shown by public opinion in Greece, 59 — Opinion of Plato, 60. 

II. Virtues inculcated in the aphorisms of the Seven Sages, 62 — Sophrosyne 
as a combination of moderation and self-knowledge, 62 — Illustrations from Homer, 
62 — Transition from self-regarding to other-regarding virtue, 63 — How morality 
acquired a religious sanction (i.) by the use of oaths, 64 — (ii.) by the ascription 
of a divine origin to law, 65 — (iii. ) by the practice of consulting oracles on questions 
of right and wrong, 65 — Difference between the Olympian and Chthonian religions, 
66 — The latter was closely connected with the ideas of law and of retribution 
after death, 67 — Beneficent results due to the interaction of the two religions, 68. 

III. The religious standpoint of Aeschylus, 69 — Incipient dissociation of 
religion from morality in Sophocles, 70 — Their complete separation in Euripides, 
71 — Contrast between the Eteocles of Aeschylus and the Eteocles of Euripides, 72 — 
Analogous difference between Herodotus and Thucydides, 73 — Evidence of moral 
deterioration supplied by Aristophanes and Plato, 74 — Probability of an association 
between intellectual growth and moral decline, 75. 

IV. The Sophists, 76 — Prodicus and llippias, 77 -Their theory of Nature as 
a moral guide, 79 — Illustration from Euripides, 80 — Probable connexion of the 
Cynic school with Prodicus, 81 - Antithesis between Nature and Law, 8i — Oppo- 


sition to slavery, 82— The versatility of Hippias connected with his advocacy of 
Nature, 83 — The right of the stronger as a law of Nature, 84. 

V. Rise of idealism and accompanying tendency to set convention above 
Nature, 85 — Agnosticism of Protagoras, 87 — In what sense he made man the 
measure of all things, 88 — His defence of civilisation, 89 — Similar views expressed 
by Thucydides, 90 — Contrast between the naturalism of Aeschylus and the 
humanism of Sophocles, 91 — The flexible character of Nomos favourable to 
education, 92 — Greek youths and modern women, 93 — The teaching of rhetoric, 
93 — It is subsequently developed into eristicism, 94. 

VI. The nihilism of Gorgias, 95 — His arguments really directed against the 
worship of Nature, 96 — The power of rhetoric in ancient Athens and modem 
England, 97 — The doctrines of Protagoras as developed by the Cyrenaic school, 99 
— and by the Megaric school, 100 — Subsequent history of the antithesis between 
Nature and Law, 100. 

VII. Variety of tendencies represented by the Sophists, 102 — Their position in 
Greek society, 103 — The different views taken of their profession in ancient 
and modern times, 104 — Their place in the development of Greek philoso- 
phy, 107. 



PHILOSOPHY . . . pages 108-170 

I. Universal celebrity of Socrates, 108 — Our intimate knowledge of his 
appearance and character, 109 — Conflicting views of his philosophy, no — Un- 
trustworthiness of the Platonic Apologia, in — Plato's account contradicted by 
Xenophon, 1 13 — Consistency of the Apologia with the general standpoint of Plato's 
Dialogues, 114 — The Platonic idea of science, 115 — How Plato can help us to 
understand Socrates, 116. 

II. Zeller's theory of the Socratic philosophy, 117 — Socrates did not offer any 
definition of knowledge, 119 — Nor did he correct the deficiencies of Greek physical 
speculation, 120 — His attitude towards physics resembled that of Protagoras, 121 
— -Positive theories of morality and religion which he entertained, 123. 

III. True meaning and originality of the Socratic teaching, 125 — Circumstances 
by which the Athenian character was formed, 126 — Its prosaic, rationalistic, and 
utilitarian tendencies, 127 — Effect produced by the possession of empire, 128 — 
The study of mind in art and philosophy, 128 — How the Athenian character was 
represented by Socrates, 129 — His sympathy with its practical and religious side, 
130 — His relation to the Humanists, i^i — Hi s identification of virtu e with know- 
ledge, 132 — The search_fQE„a_UIufying principle in pthirt^j^j — Tmpfi|-tanr-p qT 

TiTTCwTedge as a factor in ^nduct and civilis ation. 135 — Fundamental identity of 
all the mental processes, 136. 

IV. Harmony of theory and practice in the life of Socrates, 137 — Mind as a 
principle (i.) of self-control, (ii.) of co-operation, and (iii.) of spontaneous energy, 
137 — Derivation and function of the cross-examining elenchus, 138 — How it 
illustrates the negative moment of Greek thought, 139 — Conversations with Glauco 
and Euthydemus, 139 — The erotetic method as an aid to self-discipline, 141 — 
Survival of contradictory debate in the speeches of Thucydides, 142. 

V. Why Socrates insisted on the necessity of defining abstract terms, 142 — Sub- 
sequent influence of his method on the development of Roman law, 144 -Substi- 


tution of arrangement by resemblance and difference for arrangement by contiguity, 
145 — The One in the Many, and the Many in the One : conversation with Char- 
mides, 146 — Illustration of ideas by their contradictory opposites, 147 — The 
Socratic induction, (i.) an interpretation of the unknown by the known, 148 — 
Misapplication of this method in the theory of final causes, 149 — (ii.) A process of 
comparison and abstraction, 150 — Appropriateness of this method to the study ot 
mental phenomena, 151 — Why it is inapplicable to the physical sciences, 151 — 
Wide range of studies included in a complete philosophy of mind, 151 — The 
dialectical elimination of inconsistency, 152. 

VI. Consistency the great principle represented by Socrates, 152 — Parallelism 
of ethics and logic, 154 — The ethical dialectic of Socrates and Homer, 154 — ■ 
Personal and historical verifications of the Socratic method, 155 — Its influence on 
the development of art and literature, 156 — and on the relations between men and 
women, 158 — Meaning of the Daemonium, 160. 

VII. Accusation and trial of Socrates, 161 — Futility of the charges brought 
against him, 162 — Misconceptions of modern critics, 164 — His defence and con- 
demnation, 165 — Worthlessness of Grote's apology for the Dicastery, 166 — 
Refusal of Socrates to save himself by flight, 168 — Comparison with Giordano 
Bruno and Spinoza, 169 — The monuments raised to Socrates by Plato and 
Xenophon, 169. 



I. New meaning given to systems of philosophy by the method of evolution, 
171 — Extravagances of which Plato's philosophy seems to be made up, 172 — The 
high reputation which it, nevertheless, continues to enjoy, 174 — Distinction 
between speculative tendencies and the systematic form under which they are 
transmitted, 174 — Genuineness of the Platonic Dialogues, 175— Their chrono- 
logical order, 177 — They embody the substance of Plato's philosophical teaching, 

II. Wider application given to the dialectic method by Plato, 179 — He goes 
back to the initial doubt of Socrates, 180 — To what extent he shared in the 
religious reaction of his time, 181 — He places demonstrative reasoning above 
divine inspiration, 182 — His criticism of the Socratic ethics, 183 — Exceptional 
character of the Crito accounted for, 184 — Traces of Sophistic influence, 185 — 
General relation of Plato to the Sophists, 186 — Egoistic hedonism of the Protagoras, 

III. Plato as an individual : his high descent, personal beauty, and artistic 
endowment, 189 — His style is neither poetry nor eloquence nor conversation, but 
the expression of spontaneous thought, 190 — The Platonic Socrates, 191 — Plato 
carries the spirit of the Athenian aristocracy into philosophy, 192 — Severity with 
which great reformers habitually view their own age, 192 — Plato's scornful 
opinion of the many, 194 — His loss of faith in his own order, 195 — Horror of 
despotism inspired by his intercourse with Dionysius, 195 — His dissatisfaction 
with the constitution of Sparta,^96— His theory of political degeneration verified 
by the history of the Roman republic, 196 — His exclusively Hellenic and aris- 
tocratic sympathies, 197 — Invectives against the corrupting influence of the 
multitude and of their flatterers, 198 — Denunciation of the popular law-courts, 


199 — Character of the successful pleader, 200 — Importance to which he had risen 
in Plato's time, 200 — The professional teacher of rhetoric, 201. 

IV. Value and comprehensiveness of Plato's philosophy, 202 — Combination 
of Sicilian and Italiote with Attic modes of thought, 203 — Transition from the 
Protagoras to the Thcaetctus, 205 — 'Man is the measure of all things ': opinion 
and sensation,(^o6'^ — Extension of the dialectic method to all existence, 207 — The 
Heracleitean system true of phenomena, 208 — Heracleitus and Parmenides in the 
Cratyhis, 209 — Tendency to tix on Identity and Difference as the ultimate 
elements of knowledge, 210 — Combination of the mathematical method with the 
dialectic of Socrates, 210 — Doctrine of a priori cognition, 211 — The idea of 
Sameness derived from introspection, 212 — Tendency towards monism, 213. 


PLATO AS A REFORMER . . pages 214-274 

I. Recapitulation, 214 — Plato's identification of the human with the divine, 
215 — The Athanasian creed of philosophy, 216 — Attempts to mediate between 
appearance and reality, 216 — Meaning of Platonic love, 217 — Its subsequent 
development in the philoso^ihy. of Aristotle, 218 — And in the poetry of Dante, 
219 — Connexion between religious mysticism and the passion of love, 219 — Suc- 
cessive stages of Greek thought represented in the Sympositini, 220 — Analysis of 
Plato's dialectical method, 221 — Exaggerated importance attributed to classifica- 
tion, 222 — Plato's influence on modern philosophy, 223. 

II. Mediatoral character of Plato's psychology, 223 — Empirical knowledge 
as a link between demonstration and sense perception, 224 — Pride as a link 
between reason and appetite, 224 — Transition from metaphysics to ethics : 
knowledge and pleasure, 225 — Anti-hedonistic arguments of the Philebiis, 226 — ■ 
Attempt to base ethics on the distinction between soul and body, 227 — What is 
meant by the Idea of Good? 228 — It is probably the abstract notion of Identity, 229. 

III. How the practical teaching of Plato differed from that of Socrates, 229 — 
Identification of justice with self-interest, 230 — Confusion of social with individual 
happiness, 231 — Resolution of the soul into a multitude of conflicting impulses, 
232 — Impossibility of arguing men into goodness, 233. 

IV. Union of religion with morality, 234 — Cautious handling of the popular 
theology, 234 — The immortality of the soul, 235 — The Pythagorean reformation 
arrested by the progress of physical philosophy, 237 — Immortality denied by some 
of the Pythagoreans themselves, 237 — Scepticism as a transition from materialism 
to spiritualism, 238 — The arguments of Plato, 239 — Pantheism the natural out- 
come of his system, 240. 

V. Plato's condemnation of art, 241 — Exception in favour of religious hymns 
and edifying fiction, 241-^Mathematics to be made the basis of education, 242 — 
Application of science to the improvement of the race, 242— Inconsistency of 
Plato's belief in heredity with the doctrine of metempsychosis, 243 — Scheme for 
the reorganisation of society, 244 — Practical dialectic of the Republic, 245. 

VI. Hegel's theory of the Republic, 246 — Several distinct tendencies confounded 
under the name of subjectivity, 247 — Greek philosophy not an element of political 
disintegration, 250 — Plato borrowed more from Egypt than from Sparta, 253. 

VII. The consequences of a radical revolution, 254 — Plato constructed his 
new republic out of the elementary and subordinate forms of social union, 254 — 


Inconsistencies into which he was led by this method, 254 — The position which 
he assigns to women, 256 — The Platonic State half school-board and half 
marriage-board, 258 — Partial realisation of Plato's polity in the Middle Ages, 259 
— Contrast between Plato and the modern Communists, 259— His real affinities 
are with Conite and Herbert Spencer, 261. 

Vin. Reaction of Plato's social studies on his metaphysics, 262 — The ideas 
resolved into different aspects of the relation between soul and body, 263 — Dialectic 
dissolution of the four fundamental contrasts between reality and appearance, 263 
— Mind as an intermediary between the Ideas and the external world, 265 — 
Cosmogony of the Tiinaeus, 265 — Philosophy and theology, 267. 

IX. Plato's hopes from a beneficent despotism, 268 — ^The Laws, 269 — Con- 
cessions to current modes of thought, 270 — Religious intolerance, 271 — Recapitu- 
lation of Plato's achievements, 272 — Fertility of his method, 273. 



I. Recent Aristotelian literature, 275 — Reaction in favour of Aristotle's 
philosophy, 277 — and accompanying misinterpretation of its meaning, 278 — 
Zeller's partiality for Aristotle, 280. 

II. Life of Aristotle, 280 — His relation to Plato, 281 — Aristotle and Hermeias ; 
284 — Aristotle and Alexander, 285 — Aristotle's residence in Athens, flight, and 
death, 288 — His choice of a successor, 288— Provisions of his will, 289 — Personal 
appearance, 289 — Anecdotes illustrating his character, 290 — Want of self-reliance 
and originality, 291. 

fv/ III. Prevalent misconception of the difference between Aristotle and Plato, 


291 — Plato a practical, Aristotle a theoretical genius, 293 — Contrast offered by 
their views of theology, ethics, and politics, 294 — Aristotle's ideal of a State, 296 
— His want of political insight and prevision, 297 — Worthlessness of his theories 
at the present day, 298. 

IV. Strength and weakness of Aristotle's Rhetoric, 299 —Erroneous theory of 
aesthetic enjoyment put forward in his Poetics, 300 — The true nature of tragic 
emotion, 303 — Importance of female characters in tragedy, 303 — Necessity of 
poetic injustice, 305 — Theory of the Catharsis, 306 — Aristotle's rules for reason- 
ing compiled from Plato, 307 — The Organon in Ceylon, 307. 

V. Aristotle's unequalled intellectual enthusiasm, 308 — Illustrations from his 
writings, 309 — His total failure in every physical science except zoology and 
anatomy, 311 — His repeated rejection of the just views put forward by other 
philosophers, 312— Complete antithesis between his theory of Nature and ours, 

VI. Supreme mastery shown by Aristotle in dealing with the surface of things, 
318 — His inability to go below the surface, 319— In what points he was inferior 
to his predecessors, 320 — His standpoint necessarily determined by the develop- 
ment of Greek thought, 321 — Analogous development of the Attic drama, 323. 

VII. Periodical return to the Aristotelian method, 325 — The systematising 
power of Aristotle exemplified in all his writings, 326 — but chiefly in those relat- 
ing to the descriptive sciences, 327 — His biological generalisations, 328 — How 
they are explained and corrected by the theory of evolution, 329. 




OF ARISTOTLE . . . pages 33O-402 

I. Homogeneity of Aristotle's writings, 330 — The Metaphysics, 331 — What are 
the causes and principles of things ? 331 — Objections to the Ionian materialism, 
332 — Aristotle's teleology a study of functions, 332 — Illegitimate generalisation to 
the inorganic world, 333 — Aristotle's Four Causes, 334 — Derivation of his sub- 
stantial Forms from the Platonic Ideas, 335 — His criticism of the Ideal theory, 
336 —Its applicability to every kind of transcendental realism, 338 — Survival of the 
Platonic theory in Aristotle's system, 338. 

II. Specific forms assumed by the fundamental dualism of Greek thought, 339 
— Stress laid by Aristotle on the antithesis between Being and not Being, 339 — Its 
formulation in the highest laws of logic, 340 — Intermediate character ascribed to 
accidents, 340 — Distinction between truth and real existence, 341 — The Categories : 
their import and derivation, 341 — Analysis of the idea of Substance, 343 — Analysis 
of individuality, 345 — Substitution of Possibility and Actuality for Matter and 
Form, 346 — Purely verbal significance of this doctrine, 347 — Motion as the trans- 
formation of Power into Act, 347. 

HI. Aristotle's theology founded on a dynamical misconception, 348 — 
Necessity of a Prime Mover, 349 — Aristotle not a pantheist but a theist, 350 — 
Mistaken interpretation of Sir A. Grant, 351 — Inconsistency of Aristotle's 
metaphysics with Catholic theology, 352 — and with the modern arguments for 
the existence of a God, 353 — as well as with the conclusions of modern science, 
353 — Self-contradictory character of his system, 354 — Motives by which it may 
be explained, 354 — The Greek star-worship and the Christian heaven, 356 — 
Higher position given to the earth by Copernicus, 356 — Aristotle's glorification of 
the heavens, 357 — How his astronomy illustrates the Greek ideas of circumscription 
and mediation, 358. 

IV. Aristotle's general principle of systematisation, 359 — Deduction of the 
Four Elements, 360— Connexion of the Peripatetic physics with astrology and 
alchemy, 361 — Revolution effected by modern science, 361 — Systematisation of 
biology, 362 — Aristotle on the Generation of Animals, 363 — His success in com- 
parative anatomy, 364. 

V. Antithetical framework of Aristotle's psychology, 365 — His theory of 
sensation contrasted with that of the Atomists, 365— His successful treatment of 
imagination and memory, 366 — How general ideas are formed, 366 — The active 
Nous is a self-conscious idea, 367 — The train of thought which led to this theory, 
368 — Meaning of the passage in ^the Generation of Animals, 369 — Supposed 
refutation of materialism, 370 — Aristotle not an adherent of Ferrier, 371 — Form 
and matter not distinguished as subject and object, 373 — Aristotle rejects the 
doctrine of personal immortality, 374. 

VI. Aristotle's logic, 375 — Subordination of judgments to concepts, 376 — 
Science as a process of definition and classification, 377 — Aristotle's theory of 
propositions, 378 — His conceptual analysis of the syllogism, 379 — Influence of 
Aristotle's metaphysics on his logic, 380 — Disjunction the primordial form of all 
reasoning, 381 — How it gives rise to hypothetical and categorical reasoning, 382. 

VII. Theory of applied reasoning : distinction between demonstration and 
dialectic, 383 — Aristotle places abstractions above reasoned truth, 384 — Neglect 


of axioms in comparison with definitions, 384 — 'Laws of nature' not recognised 
by Aristotle, 385 — He failed to perceive the value of deductive reasoning, 387 — 
Derivation of generals from particulars : Aristotle and Mill, 387 — In what sense 
Aristotle was an empiricist, 390 — Examination of Zeller's view, 391 — Induction as 
the analysis of the middle term into the extremes, 393 — Theory of experimental 
reasoning contained in the Topics, 394. 

VIII. Systematic treatment of the antithesis between Reason and Passion, 
395 — Relation between the Rhetoric and the Ethics, 395 — Artificial treatment of 
the virtues, 396 — Fallacious opposition of Wisdom to Temperance, 397 — Central 
idea of the Politics : the distinction between the intellectual state and the material 
state, 398 — Consistency of the Poetics with Aristotle's system as a whole, 399. 

IX. Aristotle's philosophy a valuable corrective to the modern glorification of 
material industry, 399 — Leisure a necessary condition of intellectual progress, 400 
— How Aristotle would view the results of modern civilisation, 401. 


Page 9, line 18. Plutarch [ui fertur), Plac. Phil,, I., iii., 4. 

Page 15, line 26. Xenophanes, Fragm. 19 and 21, ed. Mullach. 

Page 41, line 25. Diogenes Laert., IX., 34. The words 'in the Eastern 
countries where he had travelled,' are a conjectural addition, but they seem justified 
by the context. 

Page 43, line II. Plutarch, Pericles, iv. 

Page 65. For the story of Glaucus, see Herodotus VI., Ixxxvi. 

Page 77, line 21. Plato, Protag., 315, D. 

Page 78, line i. Ibid., 341, A. 

Page 103. For the opinion of Socrates respecting the Sophists, see Xenophon, 
Mem., I., vi., II fF. 

Page 114, line 4. Xenophon, Mem , I., iv., i. 

Page 194, line 28. Repub., 493, A; ibid., line 33. Gorgias, 521, E. 

Page 195, line 23. Theaetet., 175, A and 174, E. Jowett's Transl., IV., 
P- 325- 

Page 233, last line. Sophist., 2sJo, D. 

Page 294, line 7. For Plato's preference of practice to contemplation, see 
Repiib., 4g6, E. 





During the two centuries that ended with the close of the 
Peloponnesian war, a single race, weak numerically, and 
weakened still further by political disunion, simultaneously 
developed all the highest human faculties to an extent pos- 
sibly rivalled but certainly not surpassed by the collective efforts 
of that vastly greater population which now wields the accu- 
mulated resources of modern Europe. This race, while main- 
taining a precarious foothold on the shores of the Mediter- 
ranean by repeated prodigies of courage and genius, contri- 
buted a new element to civilisation which has been the main- 
spring of all subsequent progress, but which, as it expanded 
into wider circles and encountered an increasing resistance 
from without, unavoidably lost some of the enormous elasti- 
city that characterised its earliest and most concentrated 
reaction. It was the just boast of the Greek that to Asiatic 
refinement and Thracian valour he joined a disinterested 
thirst for knowledge unshared by his neighbours on either 
side.^ And if a contemporary of Pericles could have 
foreseen all that would be thought, and said, and done during 

' Plato, Rep. IV., 435, E; Aristotle, Pol. VH., 1327, b., 29. 


the next twenty-three centuries of this worid's existence, at 
no period during that long lapse of ages, not even among the 
kindred Italian race, could he have found a competitor to 
contest with Hellas the olive crown of a nobler Olympia, the 
guerdon due to a unique combination of supreme excellence 
in every variety of intellectual exercise, in strategy, diplomacy, 
statesmanship ; in mathematical science, architecture, plastic 
art, and poetry ; in the severe fidelity of the historian whose 
paramount object is to relate facts as they have occurred, and 
the dexterous windings of the advocate whose interest leads 
him to evade or to disguise them ; in the far-reaching 
meditations of the lonely thinker grappling with the enig- 
mas of his own soul, and the fervid eloquence by which a 
multitude on whose decision hang great issues is inspired, 
directed, or controlled. He would not, it is true, have 
found any single G:feek to pit against the athletes of the 
Renaissance ; there were none who displayed that universal 
genius so characteristic of the greatest Tuscan artists such as 
Lionardo and Michael Angelo ; nor, to take a much narrower 
range, did a single Greek writer whose compositions have 
come down to us excel, or even attempt to excel, in poetry 
and prose alike. But our imaginary prophet might have 
observed that such versatility better befitted a sophist like 
Hippias or an adventurer like Critias than an earnest master 
of the Pheidian type. He might have quoted Pindar's 
sarcasm about highly educated persons who have an infinity 
of tastes and bring none of them to perfection ; ^ holding, as 
Plato did in the next generation, that one man can only do 
one thing well, he might have added that the heroes of 
modern art would have done much nobler work had they 
concentrated their powers on a single task instead of 
attempting half a dozen and leaving most of them incom- 

This careful restriction of individual effort to a single 

' Nem. III. 40-42. (Donaldson.) 


province involved no dispersion or incoherence in the results 
achieved. The highest workers were all animated by a common 
spirit. Each represented some one aspect of the glory and 
greatness participated in by all. Nor was the collective con- 
sciousness, the uniting sympathy, limited to a single sphere. 
It rose, by a graduated series, from the city community, 
through the Dorian or Ionian stock with which they claimed 
more immediate kinship, to the Panhellenic race, the whole 
of humanity, and the divine fatherhood of Zeus, until it 
rested in that all-embracing nature which Pindar knew as the 
one mother of gods and men.^ 

We may, perhaps, find some suggestion of this combined 
distinctness and comprehensiveness in the aspect and con- 
figuration of Greece itself; in its manifold varieties of soil, 
and climate, and scenery, and productions ; in the exquisite 
clearness with which the features of its landscape are de- 
fined ; and the admirable development of coast-line by 
which all parts of its territory, while preserving their political 
independence, were brought into safe and speedy communica- 
tion with one another. The industrial and commercial habits 
of the people, necessitating a well-marked division of labour 
and a regulated distribution of commodities, gave a further 
impulse in the same direction. 

But what afforded the most valuable education in this 
sense was their system of free government, involving, as it 
did, the supremacy of an impersonal law, the subdivision of 
public authority among a number of magistrates, and the 
assignment to each of certain carefully defined functions 
which he was forbidden to exceed ; together with the living 
interest felt by each citizen in the welfare of the whole state, 
and that conception of it as a whole composed of various 
parts, which is impossible where all the public powers are 
collected in a single hand. 

A people so endowed were the natural creators of philo- 

' Nem. VI. sub in. 


sophy. There came a time when the harmonious universality 
of the Hellenic genius sought for its counterpart and comple- 
tion in a theory of the external world. And there came a 
time, also, when the decay of political interests left a large 
fund of intellectual energy, accustomed to work under certain 
conditions, with the desire to realise those conditions in an 
ideal sphere. Such is the most general significance we can 
attach to that memorable series of speculations on the nature 
of things which, beginning in Ionia, was carried by the Greek 
colonists to Italy and Sicily, whence, after receiving import- 
ant additions and modifications, the stream of thought 
flowed back into the old country, where it was directed into 
an entirely new channel by the practical genius of Athens. 
Thales and his successors down to Democritus were not 
exactly what we should call philosophers, in any sense of the 
word that would include a Locke or a Hume, and exclude a 
Boyle or a Black ; for their speculations never went beyond 
the confines of the material universe ; they did not even sus- 
pect the existence of those ethical and dialectical problems 
which long constituted the sole object of philosophical dis- 
cussion, and have continued since the time when they were 
first mooted to be regarded as its most peculiar province. 
Nor yet can we look on them altogether or chiefly as men of 
science, for their paramount purpose was to gather up the 
whole of knowledge under a single principle ; and they 
sought to realise this purpose, not by observation and experi- 
ment, but by the power of thought alone. It would, perhaps, 
be truest to say that from their point of view philosophy and 
science were still undifferentiated, and that knowledge as a 
universal synthesis was not yet divorced from special investi- 
gations into particular orders of phenomena. Here, as else- 
where, advancing reason tends to reunite studies which have 
been provisionally separated, and we must look to our own 
contemporaries — to our Tyndalls and Thomsons, our Helm- 
holtzes and Zollners — as furnishing the fittest parallel to 


Anaximander and Empedocles, Leucippus and Diogenes of 

It has been the fashion in certain quarters to look down 
on these early thinkers — to depreciate the value of their 
speculations because they were thinkers, because, as we have 
already noticed, they reached their most important con- 
clusions by thinking, the means of truly scientific observation 
not being within their reach. Nevertheless, they performed 
services to humanity comparable for value with the legislation 
of Solon and Cleisthenes, or the victories of Marathon and 
Salamis ; while their creative imagination was not inferior to 
that of the great lyric and dramatic poets, the great architects 
and sculptors, whose contemporaries they were. They first 
taught men to distinguish between the realities of nature and 
the illusions of sense ; they discovered or divined the inde- 
structibility of matter and its atomic constitution ; they 
taught that space is infinite, a conception so far from being 
self-evident that it transcended the capacity of Aristotle to 
grasp ; they held that the seemingly eternal universe was 
brought into its present form by the operation of mechanical 
forces which will also effect its dissolution ; confronted by the 
seeming permanence and solidity of our planet, with the 
innumerable varieties of life to be found on its surface, they 
declared that all things had arisen by diff*erentiation ' from a 
homogeneous attenuated vapour ; while one of them went so 
far as to surmise that man is descended from an aquatic 
animal. But higher still than these fragmentary glimpses 
and anticipations of a theory which still awaits confirmation 
from experience, we must place their central doctrine, that 
the universe is a cosmos, an ordered whole governed by 
number and law, not a blind conflict of semi-conscious agents, 
or a theatre for the arbitrary interference of partial, jealous, 

' The word differentiation (krepoioiffis) seems to have been first used by Dio- 
genes Apolloniates. Simpl. Fhys. fol. 326 ff., quoted by Ritter and Preller, Hist. 
Phil., p. 126 (6th ed.) 


and vindictive gods ; that its changes are determined, if at 
all, by an immanent unchanging reason ; and that those 
celestial luminaries which had drawn to themselves in every 
age the unquestioning worship of all mankind were, in truth, 
nothing more than fiery masses of inanimate matter. Thus, 
even if the early Greek thinkers were not scientific, they first 
made science possible by substituting for a theory of the 
universe which is its direct negation, one that methodised 
observation has increasingly tended to confirm. The garland 
of poetic praise woven by Lucretius for his adored master 
should have been dedicated to them, and to them alone. His 
noble enthusiasm was really inspired by their lessons, not by 
the wearisome trifling of a moralist who knew little and cared 
less about those studies in which the whole soul of his 
Roman disciple was absorbed. 

When the power and value of these primitive speculations 
can no longer be denied, their originality is sometimes ques- 
tioned by the systematic detractors of everything Hellenic. 
Thales and the rest, we are told, simply borrowed their 
theories without acknowledgment from a storehouse of 
Oriental wisdom on which the Greeks are supposed to have 
drawn as freely as Coleridge drew on German philosophy. 
Sometimes each system is affiliated to one of the great 
Asiatic religions ; sometimes they are all traced back to the 
schools of Hindostan. It is natural that no two critics 
should agree, when the rival explanations are based on no- 
thing stronger than superficial analogies and accidental coin- 
cidences. Dr. Zeller in his wonderfully learned, clear, and 
sagacious work on Greek philosophy, has carefully sifted some 
of the hypotheses referred to, and shown how destitute they 
are of internal or external evidence, and how utterly they fail 
to account for the facts. The oldest and best authorities, 
Plato and Aristotle, knew nothing about such a derivation 
of Greek thought from Eastern sources. Isocrates does, 
indeed, mention that Pythagoras borrowed his philosophy 


from Egypt, but Isocrates did not even pretend to be a 
truthful narrator. No Greek of the early period except 
those regularly domiciled in Susa seems to have been 
acquainted with any language but his own. Few travelled 
very far into Asia, and of those few, only one or two were 
philosophers. Democritus, who visited more foreign countries 
than any man of his time, speaks only of having discussed 
mathematical problems with the wise men whom he en- 
countered ; and even in mathematics he was at least their 
equal.^ It was precisely at the greatest distance from Asia, 
in Italy and Sicily, that the systems arose which seem to 
have most analogy with Asiatic modes of thought. Can we 
suppose that the traders of those times were in any way 
qualified to transport the speculations of Confucius and the 
Vedas to such a distance from their native homes ? With far 
better reason might one expect a German merchant to carry 
a knowledge of Kant's philosophy from Konigsberg to 
Canton. But a more convincing argument than any is to 
show that Greek philosophy in its historical evolution ex- 
hibits a perfectly natural and spontaneous progress from 
simpler to more complex forms, and that system grew out of 
system by a strictly logical process of extension, analysis, and 
combination. This is what, chiefly under the guidance of 
Zeller, we shall now attempt to do. 


Thales, of Miletus, an Ionian geometrician and astronomer, 
about whose age considerable uncertainty prevails, but who 
seems to have flourished towards the close of the seventh 
century before our era, is by general consent regarded as the 
father of Greek physical philosophy. Others before him 
had attempted to account for the world's origin, but none 
like him had traced it back to a purely natural beginning. 
According to Thales all things have come from water. That 

' Ritter and Preller, p. 112. 


the earth is entirely enclosed by water above and below as well 
as all round was perhaps a common notion among the Western 
Asiatics, It was certainly believed by the Hebrews, as we 
learn from the accounts of the creation and the flood con- 
tained in Genesis. The Milesian thinker showed his origin- 
ality by generalising still further and declaring that not only 
did water surround all things, but that all things were derived 
from it as their first cause and substance, that water was, so 
to speak, the material absolute. Never have more pregnant 
words been spoken ; they acted like a ferment on the Greek 
mind ; they were the grain whence grew a tree that has over- 
shadowed the whole earth. At one stroke they substituted a 
comparatively scientific, because a verifiable principle for the 
confused fancies of mythologising poets. Not that Thales 
was an atheist, or an agnostic, or anything of that sort. On 
the contrary, he is reported to have said that all things were 
full of gods ; and the report sounds credible enough. Most 
probably the saying was a protest against the popular limita- 
tion of divine agencies to certain special occasions and favoured 
localities. A true thinker seeks above all for consistency and 
continuity. He will more readily accept a perpetual stream 
of creative energy than a series of arbitrary and isolated inter- 
ferences with the course of Nature. For the rest, Thales 
made no attempt to explain how water came to be trans- 
formed into other substances, nor is it Hkely that the necessity 
of such an explanation had ever occurred to him. We may 
suspect that he and others after him were not capable of dis- 
tinguishing very clearly between such notions as space, time, 
cause, substance, and limit. It is almost as difficult for us to 
enter into the thoughts of these primitive philosophers as it 
would have been for them to comprehend processes of reason- 
ing already familiar to Plato and Aristotle. Possibly the 
forms under which we arrange our conceptions may become 
equally obsolete at a more advanced stage of intellectual 
evolution, and our sharp distinctions may prove to be not 


less artificial than the confused identifications which they 
have superseded. 

The next great forward step in speculation was taken by 
Anaximander, another Milesian, also of distinguished attain- 
ments in mathematics and astronomy. We have seen that to 
Thales water, the all-embracing element, became, as such, the 
first cause of all things, the absolute principle of existence. 
His successor adopted the same general point of view, but 
looked out from it with a more penetrating gaze. Beyond 
water lay something else which he called the Infinite. He 
did not mean the empty abstraction which has stalked about 
in modern times under that ill-omened name, nor yet did he 
mean infinite space, but something richer and more concrete 
than either ; a storehouse of materials whence the waste of 
existence could be perpetually made good. The growth and 
decay of individual forms involve a ceaseless drain on Nature, 
and the deficiency must be supplied by a corresponding influx 
from without. For, be it observed that, although the Greek 
thinkers were at this period well aware that nothing can come 
from nothing, they had not yet grasped the complementary 
truth inalienably wedded to it by Lucretius in one immortal 
couplet, that nothing can return to nothing ; and Kant is 
quite mistaken when he treats the two as historically in- 
separable. Common experience forces the one on our atten- 
tion much sooner than the other. Our incomings are very 
strictly measured out and accounted for without difficulty, 
while it is hard to tell what becomes of all our expenditure, 
physical and economical. Yet, although the indestructibility 
of matter was a conception which had not yet dawned on 
Anaximander, he seems to have been feeling his way towards 
the recognition of a circulatory movement pervading all 
Nature. Everything, he^says, must at last be reabsorbed in 
the Infinite as a punishment for the sin of its separate exist- 
ence.' Some may find in this sentiment a note of Oriental 
' Ritter and Preller, p. 8. 


mysticism. Rather does its very sadness illustrate the healthy 
vitality of Greek feeling, to which absorption seemed like the 
punishment of a crime against the absolute, and not, as to so 
many Asiatics, the crown and consummation of spiritual per- 
fection. Be this as it may, a doctrine which identified the 
death of the whole world with its reabsorption into a higher 
reality would soon suggest the idea that its component parts 
vanish only to reappear in new combinations. 

Anaximander's system was succeeded by a number of 
others which cannot be arranged according to any order of 
linear progression. Such arrangements are, indeed, false in 
principle. Intellectual life, like every other life, is a product 
of manifold conditions, and their varied combinations are cer- 
tain to issue in a corresponding multiplicity of effects. Anaxi- 
menes, a fellow-townsman of Anaximander, followed most 
closely in the footsteps of the master. Attempting, as it 
would appear, to mediate between his two predecessors, he 
chose air for a primal element. Air is more omnipresent than 
water, which, as well as earth, is enclosed within its plastic 
sphere. On the other hand, it is more tangible and concrete 
than the Infinite, or may even be substituted for that concep- 
tion by supposing it to extend as far as thought can reach. 
As before, cosmogony grows out of cosmography ; the enclos- 
ing element is the parent of those embraced within it. 

Speculation now leaves its Asiatic cradle and travels with 
the Greek colonists to new homes in Italy and Sicily, where 
new modes of thought were fostered by a new environment. 
A name, round which mythical accretions have gathered so 
thickly that the original nucleus of fact almost defies defini- 
tion, first claims our attention. Aristotle, as is well known, 
avoids mentioning Pythagoras, and always speaks of the 
Pythagoreans when he is discussing the opinions held by a 
certain Italian school. Their doctrine, whoever originated it, 
was that all things are made out of number. Brandis regards 
Pythagoreanism as an entirely original effort of speculation, 


standing apart from the main current of Hellenic thought, and 
to be studied without reference to Ionian philosophy. Zeller, 
with more plausibility, treats it as an outgrowth of Anaxi- 
mander's system. In that system the finite and the infinite 
remained opposed to one another as unreconciled moments of 
thought. Number, according to the Greek arithmeticians, was 
a synthesis of the two, and therefore superior to either. To a 
Pythagorean the finite and the infinite were only one among 
several antithetical couples, such as odd and even, light and 
darkness, male and female, and, above all, the one and the 
many whence every number after unity is formed. The 
tendency to search for antitheses everywhere, and to manufac- 
ture them where they do not exist, became ere long an actual 
disease of the Greek mind. A Thucydides could no more 
have dispensed with this cumbrous mechanism than a rope- 
dancer could get on without his balancing pole ; and many a 
schoolboy has been sorely puzzled by the fantastic contor- 
tions which Italiote reflection imposed for a time on Athenian 

Returning to our more immediate subject, we must ob- 
serve that the Pythagoreans did not maintain, in anticipation 
of modern quantitative science, that all things are determined 
by number, but that all things are numbers, or are made out 
of numbers, two propositions not easily distinguished by 
unpractised thinkers. Numbers, in a word, were to them 
precisely what water had been to Thales, what air was to 
Anaximenes, the absolute principle of existence ; only with 
them the idea of a limit, the leading inspiration of Greek 
thought, had reached a higher degree of abstraction. Number 
was, as it were, the exterior limit of the finite, and the in- 
terior limit of the infinite. Add to this that mathematical 
studies, cultivated in Egypt and Phoenicia for their practical 
utility alone, were being pursued in Hellas with ever-increas- 
ing ardour for the sake of their own delightfulness, for the 
intellectual discipline that they supplied — a discipline even 


more valuable then than now, and for the insight which they 
bestowed, or were believed to bestow, into the secret constitu- 
tion of Nature ; and that the more complicated arithmetical 
operations were habitually conducted with the aid of geo- 
metrical diagrams, thus suggesting the possibility of applying 
a similar treatment to every order of relations. Consider the 
lively emotions excited among an intelligent people at a time 
when multiplication and division, squaring and cubing, the 
rule of three, the construction and equivalence of figures, with 
all their manifold applications to industry, commerce, fine art, 
and tactics, were just as strange and wonderful as electrical 
phenomena are to us ; consider also the magical influence 
still commonly attributed to particular numbers, and the 
intense eagerness to obtain exact numerical statements, even 
when they are of no practical value, exhibited by all who 
are thrown back on primitive ways of living, as, for example, 
in Alpine travelling, or on board an Atlantic steamer, and we 
shall cease to wonder that a mere form of thought, a lifeless 
abstraction, should once have been regarded as the solution 
of every problem, the cause of all existence ; or that these 
speculations were more than once revived in after ages, and 
perished only with Greek philosophy itself. 

We have not here to examine the scientific achievements 
of Pythagoras and his school ; they belong to the history 
of science, not to that of pure thought, and therefore lie out- 
side the present discussion. Something, however, must be 
said of Pythagoreanism as a scheme of moral, religious, and 
social reform. Alone among the pre-Socratic systems, it 
undertook to furnish a rule of conduct as well as a theory of 
being. Yet, as Zeller has pointed out,^ it was only an ap- 
parent anomaly, for the ethical teaching of the Pythagoreans 
was not based on their physical theories, except in so far 
as a deep reverence for law and order was common to both. 

' Die PJiilosophii: dcr Gi-urhoi, I. p. 401 (3vd ed.) 


Perhaps, also, the separation of soul and body, with the 
ascription of a higher dignity to the former, which was a 
distinctive tenet of the school, may be paralleled with the 
position given to number as a kind of spiritual power creat- 
ing and controlling the v/orld of sense. So also political power 
was to be entrusted to an aristocracy trained in every noble 
accomplishment, and fitted for exercising authority over 
others by self-discipline, by mutual fidelity, and by habitual 
obedience to a rule of right. Nevertheless, we must look, 
with Zeller, for the true source of Pythagoreanism as a moral 
movement in that great wave of religious enthusiasm which 
swept over Hellas during the sixth century before Christ, 
intimately associated with the importation of Apollo-worship 
from Lycia, with the concentration of spiritual authority in 
the oracular shrine of Delphi, and the political predominance 
of the Dorian race, those Normans of the ancient world. 
Legend has thrown this connexion into a poetical form by 
making Pythagoras the son of Apollo ; and the Samian sage, 
although himself an Ionian, chose the Dorian cities of 
Southern Italy as a favourable field for his new teaching, 
just as Calvinism found a readier acceptance in the ad- 
vanced posts of the Teutonic race than among the people 
whence its founder sprang. Perhaps the nearest parallel, 
although on a far more extensive scale, for the religious 
movement of which we are speaking, is the spectacle offered 
by mediaeval Europe during the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries of our era, when a series of great Popes had con- 
centrated all spiritual power in their own hands, and were 
sending forth army after army of Crusaders to the East ; 
when all Western Europe had awakened to the consciousness 
of its common Christianity, and each individual was thrilled 
by a sense of the tremendous alternatives committed to his 
choice ; when the Dominican and Franciscan orders were 
founded ; when Gothic architecture and Florentine painting 
arose; when the Troubadours and Minnesangers were pour- 


ing out their notes of scornful or tender passion, and tlie 
love of the sexes had become a sentiment as lofty and 
enduring as the devotion of friend to friend had been in 
Greece of old. The bloom of Greek religious enthusiasm 
was more exquisite and evanescent than that of feudal 
Catholicism ; inferior in pure spirituality and of more re- 
stricted significance as a factor in the evolution of humanity, 
it at least remained free from the ecclesiastical tyranny, the 
murderous fanaticism, and the unlovely superstitions of 
mediaeval faith. But polytheism under any form was fatally 
incapable of coping with the new spirit of enquiry awakened 
by philosophy, and the old myths, with their naturalistic 
crudities, could not long satisfy the reason and conscience 
of thinkers who had learned in another school to seek 
everywhere for a central unity of control, and to bow their 
imaginations before the passionless perfection of eternal 


Such a thinker was Xenophanes, of Colophon. Driven, 
like Pythagoras, from his native city by civil discords, he 
spent the greater part of an unusually protracted life wander- 
ing through the Greek colonies of Sicily and Southern Italy, 
and reciting his own verses, not always, as it would appear, to 
a very attentive audience. Elea, an Italiote city, seems to 
have been his favourite resort, and the school of philosophy 
which he founded there has immortalised the name of this 
otherwise obscure Phocaean settlement. Enough remains of 
his verses to show with what terrible strength of sarcasm he 
assailed the popular religion of Hellas. ' Homer and Hesiod,' 
he exclaims, ' have attributed to the gods everything that is a 
shame and reproach among men— theft, adultery, and mutual 
deception.' ' Nor is Xenophanes content with attacking 

• Ritter .ind Preller, p. 54. 


these unedifying stories, he strikes at the anthropomorphic 
conceptions which lay at their root. * Mortals think that the 
gods have senses, and a voice and a body like their own. 
The negroes fancy that their deities are black-skinned and 
snub-nosed, the Thracians give theirs fair hair and blue eyes ; 
if horses or lions had hands and could paint, they too would 
make gods in their own image.' ^ It was, he declared, as 
impious to believe in the birth of a god as to believe in the 
possibility of his death. The current polytheism was equally 
false. ' There is one Supreme God among gods and men, 
unlike mortals both in mind and body.' ^ There can be only 
one God, for God is Omnipotent, so that there must be none 
to dispute his will. He must also be perfectly homogeneous, 
shaped like a sphere, seeing, hearing, and thinking with every 
part alike, never moving from place to place, but governing 
all things by an effortless exercise of thought. Had such 
daring heresies been promulgated in democratic Athens, their 
author would probably have soon found himself and his 
works handed over to the tender mercies of the Eleven, 
Happily at Elea, and in most other Greek states, the gods 
were left to take care of themselves. 

Xenophanes does not seem to have been ever molested 
on account of his religious opinions. He complains bitterly 
enough that people preferred fiction to philosophy, that 
uneducated athletes engrossed far too much popular admi- 
ration, that he, Xenophanes, was not sufficiently appreciated ; 
but of theological intolerance, so far as our information goes, 
he says not one single word. It will easily be conceived that 
the rapid progress of Greek speculation was singularly 
favoured by such unbounded freedom of thought and speech. 
The views just set forth have often been regarded as a step 
towards spiritualistic monotheism, and so, considered in the 
light of subsequent developments, they unquestionably were. 
Still, looking at the matter from another aspect, we may say 

> Ritter and Preller, p. 54. ^ lb. 


that Xenophanes, when he shattered the idols of popular 
religion, was returning to the past rather than anticipating 
the future ; feeling his way back to the deeper, more primor- 
dial faith of the old Aryan race, or even of that still older 
stock whence Aryan and Turanian alike diverged. He turns 
from the brilliant, passionate, fickle Dyaus, to Zen, or Ten, 
the ever-present, all-seeing, all-embracing, immovable vault of 
heaven. Aristotle, with a sympathetic insight unfortunately 
too rare in his criticisms on earlier systems, observes that 
Xenophanes did not make it clear whether the absolute unity 
he taught was material or ideal, but simply looked up at the 
whole heaven and declared that the One was God.' Aristotle 
was himself the real creator of philosophic monotheism, just 
because the idea of living, self-conscious personality had a 
greater value, a profounder meaning for him than for any 
other thinker of antiquity, one may almost say than for any 
other thinker whatever. It is, therefore, a noteworthy circum- 
stance that, while warmly acknowledging the anticipations of 
Anaxagoras, he nowhere speaks of Xenophanes as a pre- 
decessor in the same line of enquiry. The latter might be 
called a pantheist were it not that pantheism belongs to a 
much later stage of speculation, one, in fact, not reached by 
the Greek mind at any period of its development. His 
leading conception was obscured by a confusion of mytho- 
logical with purely physical ideas, and could only bear full 
fruit when the religious element had been entirely eliminated 
from its composition. This elimination was accomplished by 
a far greater thinker, one who combined poetic inspiration 
with philosophic depth ; who was penetrating enough to 
discern the logical consequences involved in a fundamental 
principle of thought, and bold enough to push them to their 
legitimate conclusions without caring for the shock to sense 
and common opinion that his merciless dialectic might 

' Metaph. I. v. 


Parmenides, of Elea, flourished towards the beginning of 
the fifth century B.C. We know very little about his personal 
history. According to Plato, he visited Athens late in life, 
and there made the acquaintance of Socrates, at that time a 
very young man. But an unsupported statement of Plato's 
must always be received with extreme caution ; and this 
particular story is probably not less fictitious than the 
dialogue which it serves to introduce. Parmenides embodied 
his theory of the world in a poem, the most important 
passages of which have been preserved. They show that, 
while continuing the physical studies of his predecessors, he 
proceeded on an entirely different method. Their object 
was to deduce every variety of natural phenomena from a 
fundamental unity of substance. He declared that all 
variety and change were a delusion, and that nothing existed 
but one indivisible, unalterable, absolute reality ; just as 
Descartes' antithesis of thought and extension disappeared 
in the infinite substance of Spinoza, or as the Kantian 
dualism of object and subject was eliminated in Hegel's 
absolute idealism. Again, Parmenides does not dogmatise 
to the same extent as his predecessors ; he attempts to 
demonstrate his theory by the inevitable necessities of being 
and thought. Existence, he tells us over and over again, is, 
and non-existence is not, cannot even be imagined or thought 
of as existing, for thought is the same as being. This is 
not an anticipation of Hegel's identification of being with 
thought ; it only amounts to the very innocent proposition 
that a thought is something and about something — enters, 
therefore, into the general undiscriminated mass of being. 
He next proceeds to prove that what is can neither come 
into being nor pass out of it again. It cannot come out of 
the non-existent, for that is inconceivable; nor out of the 
existent, for nothing exists but being itself; and the same 
argument proves that it cannot cease to exist. Here we find 
the indestructibility of matter, a truth which Anaximander 



had not yet grasped, virtually affirmed for the first time in 
history. We find also that our philosopher is carried away 
by the enthusiasm of a new discovery, and covers more 
ground than he can defend in maintaining the permanence of 
all existence whatever. The reason is that to him, as to 
every other thinker of the pre-Socratic period, all existence 
was material, or, rather, all reality was confounded under 
one vague conception, of which visible resisting extension 
supplied the most familiar type. To proceed : Being cannot 
be divided from being, nor is it capable of condensation or 
expansion (as the lonians had taught) ; there is nothing by 
which it can be separated or held apart ; nor is it ever more 
or less existent, but all is full of being. Parmenides goes on 
in his grand style : — 

' Therefore the whole extends continuously. 
Being by Being set ; immovable. 
Subject to the constraint of mighty laws ; 
Both increate and indestructible, 
Since birth and death have wandered far away 
By true conviction into exile driven ; 
The same, in self-same place, and by itself 
Abiding, doth abide most firmly fixed. 
And bounded round by strong Necessity. 
Wherefore a holy law forbids that Being 
Should be without an end, else want were there. 
And want of that would be a want of all.' ^ 

Thus does the everlasting Greek love of order, definition, 
limitation, reassert its supremacy over the intelligence of this 
noble thinker, just as his almost mystical enthusiasm has 
reached its highest jiitch of exaltation, giving him back a 
world which thought can measure, circumscribe, and control. 

Being, then, is finite in extent, and, as a consequence of 
its absolute homogeneity, spherical in form. There is good 
reason for believing that the earth's true figure was first 
discovered in the fifth century B.C., but whether it was 
suggested by the d, priori theories of Parmenides, or was 

' Ritter and Preller, p. 63. 


generalised by him into a law of the whole universe, or 
whether there was more than an accidental connexion 
between the two hypotheses, we cannot tell. Aristotle, at 
any rate, was probably as much indebted to the Eleatic system 
as to contemporary astronomy for his theory of a finite sphe- 
rical universe. It will easily be observed that the distinction 
between space and matter, so obvious to us, and even to 
Greek thinkers of a later date, had not yet dawned upon 
Parmenides. As applied to the former conception, most of 
his affirmations are perfectly correct, but his belief in the 
finiteness of Being can only be justified on the supposition 
that Being is identified with matter. For it must be clearly 
understood (and Zeller has the great merit of having proved 
this fact by incontrovertible arguments) ' that the Eleatic 
Being was not a transcendental conception, nor an abstract 
unity, as Aristotle erroneously supposed, nor a Kantian 
noumenon, nor a spiritual essence of any kind, but a 
phenomenal reality of the most concrete description. We 
can only not call Parmenides a materialist, because 
materialism implies a negation of spiritualism, which in his 
time had not yet come into existence. He tells us plainly 
that a man's thoughts result from the conformation of his 
body, and are determined by the preponderating element in 
its composition. Not much, however, can be made of this 
rudimentary essay in psychology, connected as it seems to be 
with an appendix to the teaching of our philosopher, in 
which he accepts the popular dualism, although still convinced 
of its falsity, and uses it, under protest, as an explanation of 
that very genesis which he had rejected as impossible. 

As might be expected, the Parmenidean paradoxes pro- 
voked a considerable amount of contradiction and ridicule. 
The Reids and Beatties of that time drew sundry absurd 
consequences from the new doctrine, and offered them as a 
sufficient refutation of its truth. Zeno, a young friend and 

' op. cit. p. 475. 
c 2 


favourite of Parmenides, took up arms in his master's defence, 
and sought to prove with brilliant dialectical ability that con- 
sequences still more absurd might be deduced from the 
opposite belief He originated a series of famous puzzles 
lespecting the infinite divisibility of matter and the possibility 
of motion, subsequently employed as a disproof of all 
certainty by the Sophists and Sceptics, and occasionally 
made to serve as arguments on behalf of agnosticism by 
writers of our own time. Stated generally, they may be 
reduced to two. A whole composed of parts and divisible ad 
infinitum must be either infinitely great or infinitely little ; 
infinitely great if its parts have magnitude, infinitely little if 
they have not. A moving body can never come to the end of 
a given line, for it must first traverse half the line, then half the 
remainder, and so on for ever. Aristotle thought that the 
difficulty about motion could be solved by taking the infinite 
divisibility of time into account ; and Coleridge, according to 
his custom, repeated the explanation without acknowledgment. 
But Zeno would have refused to admit that any infinite series 
could come to an end, whether it was composed of successive 
or of co-existent parts. So long as the abstractions of our 
understanding are treated as separate entities, these and 
similar puzzles will continue to exercise the ingenuity of 
metaphysicians. Our present business, however, is not to 
solve Zeno's difficulties, but to show how they illustrate a 
leading characteristic of Greek thought, its tendency to per- 
petual analysis, a tendency not limited to the philosophy of 
the Greeks, but pervading the whole of their literature and 
even of their art. Homer carefully distinguishes the succes- 
sive steps of every action, and leads up to every catastrophe 
by a series of finely graduated transitions. Like Zeno, again, 
he pursues a system of dichotomy, passing rapidly over the 
first half of his subject, and relaxes the speed of his narrative 
by going into ever-closer detail until the consummation is 
reached. Such a poem as the ' Achilleis ' of modern critics 


would have been perfectly intolerable to a Greek, from the 
too rapid and uniform march of its action. Herodotus pro- 
ceeds after a precisely similar fashion, advancing from a broad 
and free treatment of history to elaborate minuteness of 
detail. So, too, a Greek temple divides itself into parts so 
distinct, yet so closely connected, that the eye, after separating, 
as easily recombines them into a whole. The evolution of 
Greek music tells the same tale of progressive subdivision, 
which is also illustrated by the passage from long speeches to 
single lines, and from these again to half lines in the dialogue 
of a Greek drama. No other people could have created 
mathematical demonstration, for no other would have had 
skill and patience enough to discover the successive identities 
interposed between and connecting the sides of an equation. 
The dialectic of Socrates and Plato, the somewhat wearisome 
distinctions of Aristotle, and, last of all, the fine-spun series of 
triads inserted by Proclus between the superessential One and 
the fleeting world of sense, — were all products of the same 
fundamental tendency, alternately most fruitful and most 
barren in its results. It may be objected that Zeno, so far 
from obeying this tendency, followed a diametrically opposite 
principle, that of absolutely unbroken continuity. True ; but 
the ' Eleatic Palamedes ' fought his adversaries with a weapon 
wrested out of their own hands ; rejecting anal3'sis as a law of 
real existence, he continued to employ it as a logical artifice 
with greater subtlety than had ever yet been displayed in 
pure speculation.^ 

' The tendency which it has been attempted to characterise as a fundamental 
moment of Greek thought can only be called analytical in default of a better word. 
It is a process by which two related terms are at once parted and joined together 
by the insertion of one or more intermediary links ; as, for instance, when a 
capital is inserted between column and architrave, or when a proposition is de- 
monstrated by the interposition of a middle term between its subject and predi- 
cate. The German words Vermitteln and Vermittelung express what is meant 
with sufficient exactitude. They play a great part in Hegel's philosophy, and it 
will be remembered that Hegel was the most Hellenic of modern thinkers. So 
understood, there will cease to be any contradiction between the Eleates and 


Besides Zeno, Parmenides seems to have had only one 
disciple of note, Melissus, the Samian statesman and general ; 
but under various modifications and combined with other 
elements, the Eleatic absolute entered as a permanent factor 
into Greek speculation. From it were lineally descended the 
Sphairos of Empedocles, the eternal atoms of Leucippus, the 
Nous of Anaxagoras, the Megaric Good, the supreme solar 
idea of Plato, the self-thinking thought of Aristotle, the im- 
perturbable tranquillity attributed to their model sage by 
Stoics and Epicureans alike, the sovereign indifference of the 
Sceptics, and finally, the Neo-platonic One. Modern philo- 
sophers have sought for their supreme ideal in power, move- 
ment, activity, life, rather than in any stationary substance ; 
yet even among them we find Herbart partially reviving the 
Eleatic theory, and confronting Hegel's fluent categories with 
his own inflexible monads. 

We have now to study an analogous, though far less com- 
plicated, antagonism in ancient Greece, and to show how her 
most brilliant period of physical philosophy arose from the 
combination of two seemingly irreconcilable systems. Par- 
menides, in an address supposed to be delivered by Wisdom 
to her disciple, warns us against the method pursued by 
* ignorant mortals, the blind, deaf, stupid, confused tribes, who 
hold that to be and not to be are the same, and that all things 
move round by an inverted path.' ' What Parmenides de- 
nounced as arrant nonsense was deliberately proclaimed to be 
the highest truth by his illustrious contemporary, Heracleitus, 
of Ephesus. This wonderful thinker is popularly known as 
the weeping philosopher, because, according to a very 
silly tradition, he never went abroad without shedding tears 
over the follies of mankind. No such mawkish sentimentality, 
but bitter scorn and indignation, marked the attitude of 

Greek thought generally, at least from one point of view, as their object was to 
fill up the vacant spaces supposed to separate one mode of existence from another. 
' Ritter and Treller, p. 62. 


Heracleitus towards his fellows. A self-taught sage, he had 
no respect for the accredited instructors of Hellas. * Much 
learning/ he says, ' does not teach reason, else it would have 
taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, Xenophanes and Hecataeus.' ' 
Homer, he declares, ought to be flogged out of the public 
assemblages, and Archilochus likewise. When the highest 
reputations met with so little mercy, it will readily be imagined 
what contempt he poured on the vulgar herd. The feelings 
of a high-born aristocrat combine with those of a lofty genius 
to point and wing his words. ' The many are bad and few 
are the good. The best choose one thing instead of all, a 
perpetual well-spring of fame, while the many glut their 
appetites like beasts. One man is equal to ten thousand if 
he is the best.' This contempt was still further intensified by 
the very excusable incapacity of the public to understand 
profound thought conveyed in a style proverbial for its 
obscurity. * Men cannot comprehend the eternal law ; when I 
have explained the order of Nature they are no wiser than 
before.' What, then, was this eternal law, a knowledge of 
which Heracleitus found so difficult to popularise .-' Let us 
look back for a moment at the earlier Ionian systems. They 
had taught that the universe arose either by differentiation 
or by condensation and expansion from a single primordial 
substance, into which, as Anaximander, at least, held, every- 
thing at last returned. Now, Heracleitus taught that this 
transformation is a universal, never-ending, never-resting 
process ; that all things are moving ; that Nature is like a 
stream in which no man can bathe twice ; that rest and 
stability are the law, not of life, but of death. Again, the 
Pythagorean school, as we have seen, divided all things into 
a series of sharply distinguished antithetical pairs. Hera- 
cleitus either directly identified the terms of every opposition, 
or regarded them as necessarily combined, or as continually 

' For the originals of this and the succeeding quotations from Heracleitus, 
see Ritter and Preller, pp. 14-23. 


passing into one another. Perhaps we shall express his 
meaning most thoroughly by saying that he would have 
looked on all three propositions as equivalent statements of a 
single fact. In accordance with this principle he calls war 
the father and king and lord of all, and denounces Homer's 
prayer for the abolition of strife as an unconscious blasphemy 
against the universe itself. Yet, even his powerful intellect 
could not grasp the conception of a shifting relativity as the 
law and life of things without embodying it in a particular 
material substratum. Following the Ionian tradition, he 
sought for a world-element, and found it in that cosmic fire 
which enveloped the terrestrial atmosphere, and of which the 
heavenly luminaries were supposed to be formed. ' Fire,' 
says the Ephesian philosopher, no doubt adapting his language 
to the comprehension of a great commercial community, 'is 
the general medium of exchange, as gold is given for every- 
thing, and everything for gold.' ' The world was not created 
by any god or any man, but always was, and is, and shall be, 
an ever-living fire, periodically kindled and quenched.' By 
cooling and condensation, water is formed from fire, and 
earth from water ; then, by a converse process called the way 
up as the other was the way down, earth again passes into 
water and water into fire. At the end of certain stated 
periods the whole world is to be reconverted into fire, Uut only 
to enter on a new cycle in the series of its endless revolutions 
— a conception, so far, remarkably confirmed by modern 
science. The whole theory, including a future world -con- 
flagration, was afterwards adopted by the Stoics, and probably 
exercised a considerable influence on the eschatology of the 
early Christian Church. Imagination is obliged to work 
under forms which thought has already superseded ; and 
Heracleitus as a philosopher had forestalled the dazzling con- 
summation to which as a prophet he might look forward in 
wonder and hope. For, his elemental fire was only a pictur- 
esque presentation indispensable to him, but not to us, of the 


sovereign law wherein all things live and move and have their 
being. To have introduced such an idea into speculation was 
his distinctive and inestimable achievement, although it may- 
have been suggested by the dixapfiivrj or destiny of the 
theological poets, a term occasionally employed in his 
writings. It had a moral as well as a physical meaning, or 
rather it hovers ambiguously between the two. ' The sun 
shall not transgress his bounds, or the Erinyes who help 
justice will find him out.' It is the source of human laws, 
the common reason which binds men together, therefore they 
should hold by it even more firmly than by the laws of the 
State. It is not only all-wise but all-good, even where it 
seems to be the reverse ; for our distinctions between good 
and evil, just and unjust, vanish in the divine harmony of 
Nature, the concurrent energies and identifying transforma- 
tions of her universal life. 

According to Aristotle, the Heracleitean flux was incon- 
sistent with the highest law of thought, and made all predica- 
tion impossible. It has been shown that the master himself 
recognised a fixed recurring order of change which could be 
affirmed if nothing else could. But the principle of change, 
once admitted, seemed to act like a corrosive solvent, too 
powerful for any vessel to contain. Disciples were soon 
found who pushed it to extreme consequences with the effect 
of abolishing all certainty whatever. In Plato's time it was 
impossible to argue with a Heracleitean ; he could never be 
tied down to a definite statement. Every proposition became 
false as soon as it was uttered, or rather before it was out of 
the speaker's mouth. At last, a distinguished teacher of the 
school declined to commit himself by using words, and dis- 
puted exclusively in dumb show. A dangerous speculative 
crisis had set in. At either extremity of the Hellenic world 
the path of scientific inquiry was barred ; on the one hand by 
a theory eliminating non-existence from thought, and on the 
otlicr hand by a theory identifying it with existence. The 


luminous beam of reflection had been polarised into two 
divergent rays, each light where the other was dark and dark 
where the other was light, each denying what the other 
asserted and asserting what the other denied. For a century 
physical speculation had taught that the universe was formed 
by the modification of a single eternal substance, whatever 
that substance might be. By the end of that period, all 
becoming was absorbed into being at Elea, and all being into 
becoming at Ephesus. Each view contained a portion of the 
truth, and one which perhaps would never have been clearly 
perceived if it had not been brought into exclusive promi- 
nence. But further progress was impossible until the two 
half-truths had been recombined. We may compare Par- 
menides and Heracleitus to two lofty and precipitous peaks 
on either side of an Alpine pass. Each commands a wide 
prospect, interrupted only on the side of its opposite neighbour. , 
And the fertilising stream of European thought originates 
with neither of them singly, but has its source midway 


We now enter on the last period of purely objective 
philosophy, an age of mediating and reconciling, but still 
profoundly orignal speculation. Its principal representatives, 
with whom alone we have to deal, are Empedocles, the 
Atomists, Leucippus and Democritus, and Anaxagoras. 
There is considerable doubt and difficulty respecting the 
order in which they should be placed. Anaxagoras was 
unquestionably the oldest and Democritus the youngest of the 
four, the difference between their ages being forty years. It 
is also nearly certain that the Atomists came after Empedo- 
cles. But if we take a celebrated expression of Aristotle's ' 
literally (as there is no reason why it should not be taken), 

' TjJ liXv T]\iKiq. nporepos S>v, to'is 5' fpyois vtrnpos. Mctapli. I. iii. 


Anaxagoras, although born before Empedocles, published his 
views at a later period. Was he also anticipated by Leu- 
cippus ? We cannot tell with certainty, but it seems likely 
from a comparison of their doctrines that he was ; and in all 
cases the man who naturalised philosophy in Athens, and 
who by his theory of a creative reason furnishes a transition to 
the age of subjective speculation, will be most conveniently 
placed at the close of the pre-Socratic period. 

A splendid tribute has been paid to the fame of Empedo- 
cles by Lucretius, the greatest didactic poet of all time, and 
by a great didactic poet of our own time, Mr. Matthew 
Arnold. But the still more rapturous panegyric pronounced 
by the Roman enthusiast on Epicurus makes his testimony a 
little suspicious, and the lofty chant of our own contemporary 
must be taken rather as an expression of his own youthful 
opinions respecting man's place in Nature, than as a faithful 
exposition of the Sicilian thinker's creed. Many another 
name from the history of philosophy might with better reason 
have been prefixed to that confession of resigned and scornful 
scepticism entitled Evipedodes on Etna. The real doctrines 
of an essentially religious teacher would hardly have been so 
cordially endorsed by Mr. Swinburne. But perhaps no other 
character could have excited the deep sympathy felt by one 
poetic genius for another, when with both of them thought is 
habitually steeped in emotion. Empedocles was the last 
Greek of any note who threw his philosophy into a metrical 
form. Neither Xenophanes nor Parmenides had done this 
with so much success. No less a critic than Aristotle extols 
the Homeric splendour of his verses, and Lucretius, in this 
respect an authority, speaks of them as almost divine. But, 
judging from the fragments still extant, their speculative 
content exhibits a distinct decline from the height reached 
by his immediate predecessors. Empedocles betrays a dis- 
trust in man's power of discovering truth, almost, although 
not quite, unknown to them. Too much certainty would be 


impious. He calls on the ' much-wooed white-armed virgin 
muse ' to — 

' Guide from the seat of Reverence thy briglit car, 
And bring to us the creatures of a day, 
^ What without sin we may aspire to know.' ' 

We also miss in him their single-minded devotion to phi- 
losophy and their rigorous unity of doctrine. The Acragan- 
tine sage was a party leader (in which capacity, to his great 
credit, he victoriously upheld the popular cause), a rhetorician, 
an engineer, a physician, and a thaumaturgist. The well- 
known legend relating to his death may be taken as a not un- 
deserved satire on the colossal self-conceit of the man who 
claimed divine honours during his lifetime. Half-mystic and 
half-rationalist, he made no attempt to reconcile the two in- 
consistent sides of his intellectual character. It may be 
compared to one of those grotesque combinations in which, 
according to his morphology, the heads and bodies of widely 
different animals were united during the beginnings of life 
before they had learned to fall into their proper places. He 
believed in metempsychosis, and professed to remember the 
somewhat miscellaneous series of forms through which his 
own personality had already run. He had been a boy, a girl, 
a bush, a bird, and a fish. Nevertheless, as we shall presently 
see, his theory of Nature altogether excluded such a notion 
as the soul's separate existence. We have now to consider 
what that theory actually was. It will be remembered that 
Parmenides had affirmed the perpetuity and eternal self- 
identity of being, but that he had deprived this profound 
divination of all practical value by interpreting it in a sense 
which excluded diversity and change. Empedocles also 
declares creation and destruction to be impossible, but 
explains that the appearances so denominated arise from the 
union and separation of four everlasting substances — earth, 
air, fire, and water. This is the famous doctrine of the four 

' Ritter and Preller, p. 90. 


elements, which, adopted by Plato and Aristotle, was long 
regarded as the last word of chemistry, and still survives in 
popular phraseology. Its author may have been guided by 
an unconscious reflection on the character of his own philo- 
sophical method, for was not he, too, constructing a new 
system out of the elements supplied by his predecessors ? 
They had successively fixed on water, air, and fire as the 
primordial form of existence ; he added a fourth, earth, and 
effected a sort of reconciliation by placing them all on an 
equal footing. Curiously enough, the earlier monistic sys- 
tems had a relative justification which his crude eclecticism 
lacked. All matter may exist either in a solid, a liquid, or a 
gaseous form ; and all solid matter has reached its present 
condition after passing through the two other degrees of 
consistency. That the three modifications should be found co- 
existing in our own experience is a mere accident of the present 
regime, and to enumerate them is to substitute a description 
for an explanation, the usual fault of eclectic systems. Empe- 
docles, however, besides his happy improvement on Parme- 
nides, made a real contribution to thought when, as Aristotle 
puts it, he sought for a moving as well as for a material cause ; 
in other words, when he asked not only of what elements 
the world is composed, but also by what forces were they 
brought together. He tells us of two such causes, Love and 
Strife, the one a combining, the other a dissociating power. 
If for these half-mythological names we read attractive and 
repulsive forces, the result will not be very different from our 
own current cosmologies. Such terms, when so used as to 
assume the existence of occult qualities in matter, driving its 
parts asunder or drawing them close together, are, in truth, 
as completely mythological as any figments of Hellenic fancy. 
Unlike their modern antitypes, the Empedoclean goddesses 
did not reign together, but succeeded one another in alternate 
dominion during protracted periods of time. The victory of 
Love was complete when all things had been drawn into a 


perfect sphere, evidently the absolute Eleatic Being subjected 
to a Heracleitean law of vicissitude and contradiction. For 
Strife lays hold on the consolidated orb, and by her disinte- 
grating action gradually reduces it to a formless chaos, till, at 
the close of another world-period, the work of creation begins 
again. Yet growth and decay are so inextricably intertwined 
that Empedocles failed to keep up this ideal separation, and 
was compelled to admit the simultaneous activity of both 
powers in our everyday experience, so that Nature turns out 
to be composed of six elements instead of four, the mind 
which perceives it being constituted in a precisely similar 
manner. But Love, although on the whole victorious, can 
only gradually get the better of her retreating enemy, and 
Nature, as we know it, is the result of their continued conflict. 
Empedocles described the process of evolution, as he con- 
ceived it, in somewhat minute detail. Two points only are of 
much interest to us, his alleged anticipation of the Dar- 
winian theory and his psychology. The former, such as it 
was, has occasionally been attributed to Lucretius, but the 
Roman poet most probably copied Epicurus, although the 
very brief summary of that philosopher's physical system 
preserved by Diogenes Laertius contains no allusion to such 
a topic. We know, however, that in Aristotle's time a theory 
identical with that of Lucretius was held by those who 
rejected teleological explanations of the world in general 
and of living organisms in particular. All sorts of animals 
were produced by spontaneous generation ; only those sur- 
vived which were accidentally furnished with appliances for 
procuring nourishment and for propagating their kind. The 
notion itself originated with Empedocles, whose fanciful 
suppositions have already been mentioned in a different 
connexion. Most assuredly he did not offer it as a solution 
of problems which in his time had not yet been mooted, but 
as an illustration of the confusion which prevailed when Love 
had only advanced a little wa}' in her ordei'ing, harmonising, 


unifying task. Prantl, writing a few years before the ap- 
pearance of Mr. Darwin's book on the Origin of Species, and 
therefore without any prejudice on the subject, observes witli 
truth that this theorj^ of Empedocles was deeply rooted in 
the mythological conceptions of the time.^ Perhaps he was 
seeking for a rationalistic explanation of the centaurs, mino- 
taurs, hundred-handed giants, and so forth, in whose existence 
he had not, like Lucretius, learned completely to disbelieve. 
His strange supposition was afterwards freed from its worst 
extravagances ; but even as stated in the De Reruvi Natiird, 
it has no claim whatever to rank as a serious hypothesis. 
, Anything more unlike the Darwinian doctrine, according to 
which all existing species have been evolved from less highly- 
organised ancestors by the gradual accumulation of minute 
differences, it would be difficult to conceive. Every thinker 
of antiquity, with one exception, believed in the immutability 
of natural species. They had existed unchanged from all 
eternity, or had sprung up by spontaneous generation from 
the earth's bosom in their present form. The solitary dis- 
sentient was Anaximander, who conjectured that man was 
descended from an aquatic animal.^ Strange to say, this 
lucky guess has not yet been quoted as an argument against 
the Ascidian pedigree. It is chiefly the enemies of Darwin- 
ism who are eager to find it anticipated in Empedocles or 
Lucretius. By a curious inversion of traditionalism, it is 
fancied that a modern discovery can be upset by showing 
that somebody said something of the kind more than two 
thousand years ago. Unfortunately authority has not the 
negative value of disproving the principles which it supports. 
We must be content to accept the truths brought to light by 
observation and reasoning, even at the risk of finding our- 
selves in humiliating agreement with a philosopher of an- 

• Prantl, Arisioteles' Physik, p. 484. ' Ritter and Preller, p. 11. 

' Since the above remarks were first published, Mr. Wallace, in his work on 


Passing from life to mind, we find Empedocles teaching 
an even more pronounced materialism than Parmenides, inas- 
much as it is stated in language of superior precision. Our 
souls are, according to him, made up of elements like those 
which constitute the external world, each of these being per- 
ceived by a corresponding portion of the same substances 
within ourselves — fire by fire, water by water, and so on with 
the rest. It is a mistake to suppose that speculation begins 
from a subjective stand-point, that men start with a clear 
consciousness of their own personality, and proceed to con- 
struct an objective universe after the same pattern. Doubt- 
less they are too prone to personify the blind forces of 
Nature, and Empedocles himself has just supplied us with an 
example of this tendency, but they err still more by reading 
outward experience into their own souls, by materialising the 
processes of consciousness, and resolving human personality 
into a loose confederacy of inorganic units. Even Plato, who 
did more than anyone else towards distinguishing between 
mind and body, ended by laying down his psychology on the 
lines of an astronomical system. Meanwhile, to have sepa- 
rated the perception of an object from the object itself, in 
ever so slight a degree, was an important gain to thought. 

Epicureanism, has stated that, according to Epicurus, ' the very animals which are 
found upon the earth have been made what they are by slow processes of selection 
and adaptation through the experience of life ; ' and he proceeds to call the theory 
in question, ' ultra-Darwinian ' (£//<:«;r(7«2>OT, p. 114). Lucretius — the authority 
quoted — says nothing about 'slow processes of adaptation,' nor yet does he say 
that the animals were 'made what they are ' by ' selection,' but by the procreative 
power of the earth herself. Picking out a ready-made pair of boots from among a 
number which do not fit is a very different process from manufacturing the same 
pair by measure, or wearing it into shape. To call the Empedoclean theory 
ultra-Darwinian, is like calling the Democritean or Epicurean theory of gravita- 
tion ultra-Newtonian. And Mr. Wallace seems to admit as much, when he pro- 
ceeds to say on the very same page, ' Of course in this there is no implication of 
the peculiarly Darwinian doctrine of descent or development of kind from kind 
with structure modified and complicated to meet changing circumstances.' (By 
the way, this is not a peculiarly Darwinian doctrine, for it originated with 
Lamarck, spontaneous variation and selection being the additions made by the 
English naturalists). But what becomes then of the 'slow processes of adapta- 
tion ' and the 'ultra-Darwinian theory' s; oken of just before ? 


We must not omit to notice a hypothesis by which Empc- 
docles sought to elucidate the mechanism of sensation, and 
which was subsequently adopted by the atomic school ; 
indeed, as will presently be shown, we have reason to believe 
that the whole atomic theory was developed out of it. He 
held that emanations were being continually thrown off from 
the surfaces of bodies, and that they penetrated into the 
organs of sense through fine passages or poces. This may 
seem a crude guess, but it is at any rate much more scientific 
than Aristotle's explanation. According to the latter, possi- 
bilities of feeling are converted into actualities by the pre- 
sence of an object. In other words, we feel when and because 
we do ; a safe assertion, but hardly an addition to our posi- 
tive knowledge of the subject. 

We have seen how Greek thought had arrived at a per- 
fectly just conception of the process by which all physical 
transformations are effected. The whole extended universe 
is an aggregate of bodies, while each single body is formed 
by a combination of everlasting elements, and is destroyed 
by their separation. But if Empedocles was right, if these 
primary substances were no other than the fire, air, water, 
and earth of everyday experience, what became of the 
Heracleitean law, confirmed by common observation, that, so 
far from remaining unaltered, they were continually passing 
into one another > To this question the atomic theory gave 
an answer so conclusive, that, although ignored or contemned 
by later schools, it was revived with the great revival of 
science in the sixteenth century, was successfully employed 
in the explanation of every order of phenomena, and still 
remains the basis of all physical enquiry. The undulatory 
theory of light, the law of universal gravitation, and the 
laws of chemical combination can only be expressed in 
terms implying the existence of atoms ; the laws of 
gaseous diffusion, and of thermodynamics generally, can only 
be understood with their help ; and the latest develop- 


ments of chemistry have tended still further to establish 
their reality, as well as to elucidate their remarkable proper- 
ties. In the absence of sufficient information, it is difficult 
to determine by what steps this admirable hypothesis was 
evolved. Yet, even without external evidence, we may fairly 
conjecture that, sooner or later, some philosopher, possessed 
of a high generalising faculty, would infer that if bodies are 
continually throwing off a flux of infinitesimal particles from 
their surfaces, they must be similarly subdivided all through ; 
and that if the organs of sense are honeycombed with imper- 
ceptible pores, such may also be the universal constitution of 
matter,' Now, according to Aristotle, Leucippus, the founder 
of atomism, did actually use the second of these arguments, 
and employed it in particular to prove the existence of indi- 
visible solids.^ Other considerations equally obvious sug- 
gested themselves from another quarter. If all change was 
expressible in terms of matter and motion, then gradual 
change implied interstitial motion, which again involved the 
necessity of fine pores to serve as channels for the incoming 
and outgoing molecular streams. Nor, as was supposed, 
could motion of any kind be conceived without a vacuum, the 
second great postulate of the atomic theory. Here its 
advocates directly joined issue with Parmenides. The chief 
of the Eleatic school had, as we have seen, presented being 
under the form of a homogeneous sphere, absolutely contin- 
uous but limited in extent. Space dissociated from matter 
was to him, as afterwards to Aristotle, non-existent and im- 
possible. It was, he exclaimed, inconceivable, nonsensical. 
Unhappily inconceivability is about the worst negative 
criterion of truth ever yet invented. His challenge was now 

' By a curious coincidence, the atomic constitution of matter still finds its 
strongest proof in optical phenomena. Light is propagated by transverse waves, 
and such waves are only possible in a discontinuous medium. But if the lumini- 
ferous ether is composed of discrete particles, so also must be the matter which it 
penetrates in all directions. 

•^ Ar. De Gen. et Corr., I., viii,, 325, b, 5. 


takenup by the Atomists, who boldly affirmed that if non- 
being meant empty space, it was just as conceivable and just 
as necessary as being. A further stimulus may have been 
received from the Pythagorean school, whose doctrines had, 
just at this time, been systematised and committed to writing 
by Philolaus, its most eminent disciple. The hard saying that 
all things were made out of number might be explained and 
confirmed if the integers were interpreted as material atoms. 

It will have been observed that, so far, the merit of 
originating atomism has been attributed to Leucippus, instead 
of to the more celebrated Democritus, with whose name it is 
usually associated. The two were fast friends, and seem always 
to have worked together in perfect harmony. But Leucippus, 
although next to nothing is known of his life, was apparently 
the older man, and from him, so far as we can make out, 
emanated the great idea, which his brilliant coadjutor carried 
into every department of enquiry, and set forth in works, 
which are a loss to literature as well as to science, for the 
poetic splendour of their style was not less remarkable than 
the encyclopaedic range of their contents. Democritus was 
born at Abdera, a Thracian city, 470 B.C., a year before 
Socrates, and lived to a very advanced age — more than a 
hundred, according to some accounts. However this may be, 
he was probably, like most of his great countrymen, possessed 
of immense vitality. His early manhood was spent in 
Eastern travel, and he was not a little proud of the 
numerous countries which he had visited, and the learned 
men with whom he had conversed. His time was mostly 
occupied in observing Nature, and in studying mathematics ; 
the sages of Asia and Egypt may have acquainted him with 
many useful scientific facts, but we have seen that his philo- 
sophy was derived from purely Hellenic sources. A few 
fragments of his numerous writings still survive— the relics 
of an intellectual Ozymandias. In them are briefly shadowed 
forth the conceptions which Lucretius, or at least his modern 


English interpreters, have made familiar to all educated men 
and women. Everything is the result of mechanical causa- 
tion. Infinite worlds are formed by the collision of infinite 
atoms falling for ever downward through infinite space. No 
place is left for supernatural agency ; nor are the unaided 
operations of Nature disguised under Olympian appellations. 
Democritus goes even further than Epicurus in his rejection 
of the popular mythology. His system provides no inter- 
stellar refuge for abdicated gods. He attributed a kind of 
objective existence to the apparitions seen in sleep, and even 
a considerable influence for good or for evil, but denied that 
they were immortal. The old belief in a Divine Power had 
arisen from their activity and from meteorological phenomena 
of an alarming kind, but was destitute of any stronger foun- 
dation. For his own part, he looked on the fiery spherical 
atoms as a universal reason or soul of the world, without, 
however, assigning to them the distinct and commanding 
position occupied by a somewhat analogous principle in 
the system which we now proceed to examine, and with 
which our survey of early Greek thought will most fitly 


Reasons have already been suggested for placing Anaxa- 
goras last in order among the physical philosophers, notwith- 
standing his priority in point of age to more than one of them. 
He was born, according to the most credible accounts, 500 B.C., 
at Clazomenae, an Ionian city, and settled in Athens when 
twenty years of age. There he spent much the greater part 
of a long life, illustrating the type of character which 
Euripides— expressly referring, as is supposed, to the Ionian 
sage — has described in the following choric lines : 

' Happy is he who has learned 
To search out the secret of things, 
Not to the townsmen's bane, 


Neither for aught that brings 

An unrighteous gain. 

But the ageless order he sees 

Of nature that cannot die, 

And the causes whence it springs, 

And the how and the why. 

Never have thoughts Hke these 

To a deed of dishonour been turned.' ^ 

The dishonour was for the townsmen who, in an outbreak of 
insane fanaticism, drove the blameless truthseeker from his 
adopted home. Anaxagoras was the intimate companion 
of Pericles, and Pericles had made many enemies by his 
domestic as well as by his foreign policy. A coalition of 
harassed interests and offended prejudices was formed against 
him. A cry arose that religion and the constitution were in 
danger. The Athenians had too much good sense to dismiss 
their great democratic Minister, but they permitted the illus- 
trious statesman's political opponents to strike at him through 
his friends.^ Aspasia was saved only by the tears of her lover. 
Pheidias, the grandest, most spiritual-minded artist of all time, 
was arrested on a charge of impiety, and died in a prison of 
the city whose temples were adorned with the imperishable 
monuments of his religious inspiration. A decree against 
' astronomers and atheists ' was so evidently aimed at Anaxa- 
goras that the philosopher retired to Lampsacus, where he 
died at the age of seventy-two, universally admired and 
revered. Altars dedicated to Reason and Truth were erected 
in his honour, and for centuries his memory continued to 
be celebrated by an annual feast.^ His whole existence had 
been devoted to science. When asked what made life worth 
living, he answered, ' The contemplation of the heavens and 
of the universal cosmic order.' The reply was like a title- 
page to his works. We can see that specialisation was 

' Eurip. Frag. Incert. Fab., CXXXVI. Didot, p. 850. [I am indebted for this 
version to Miss A. M. F. Robinson, the translator of the Crcnimed Hi^polytus.\ 
* Curtius, Griechische Geschichte, 342-5 (3rd ed.). 
' Zeller, op. cit., p. 791. 


beginning, that the positive sciences were separating them- 
selves from general theories about Nature, and could be 
cultivated independently of them, A single individual 
might, indeed, combine philosophy of the most comprehen- 
sive kind with a detailed enquiry into some particular order 
of phenomena, but he could do this without bringing the two 
studies into any immediate connexion with each other. 
Such seems to have been the case with Anaxagoras. He 
was a professional astronomer and also the author of a 
modified atomic hypothesis. This, from its greater com- 
plexity, seems more likely to have been suggested by the 
purely quantitative conception of Leucippus than to have 
preceded it in the order of evolution. Democritus, and 
probably his teacher also, drew a very sharp distinction 
between what were afterwards called the primary and 
secondary qualities of matter. Extension and resistance 
alone had a real existence in Nature, while the attributes 
corresponding to our special sensations, such as temperature, 
taste, and colour, were only subjectively, or, as he expressed 
it, conventionally true. Anaxagoras affirmed no less strongly 
than his younger contemporaries that the sum of being can 
neither be increased nor diminished, that all things arise and 
perish by combination and division, and that bodies are 
formed out of indestructible elements ; like the Atomists, 
again, he regarded these elementary substances as infinite 
in number and inconceivably minute ; only he considered 
them as qualitatively distinct, and as resembling on an infini- 
tesimal scale the highest compounds that they build up. 
Not only were gold, iron, and the other metals formed of 
homogeneous particles, but such substances as flesh, bone, and 
blood were, according to him, equally simple, equally decom- 
posable, into molecules of like nature with themselves. 
Thus, as Aristotle well observes, he reversed the method of 
Hmpedocles, and taught that earth, air, fire, and water were 
really the most complex of all bodies, since they supplied 



nourishment to the livhig tissues, and therefore must contain 
within themselves the multitudinous variety of units by whose 
aggregation individualised organic substance is made up.' 
Furthermore, our philosopher held that originally this inter- 
mixture had been still more thoroughgoing, all possible 
qualities being simultaneously present in the smallest par- 
ticles of matter. The resulting state of chaotic confusion 
lasted until Nous, or Reason, came and segregated the 
heterogeneous elements by a process of continuous differentia- 
tion leading up to the present arrangement of things. Both 
Plato and Aristotle have commended Anaxagoras for in- 
troducing into speculation the conception of Reason as a 
cosmic world-ordering power ; both have censured him for 
making so little use of his own great thought, for attributing 
almost everything to secondary, material, mechanical causes ; 
for not everywhere applying the teleological method ; in fact, 
for not anticipating the Bridgewater Treatises and proving 
that the world is constructed on a plan of perfect wisdom 
and goodness. Less fortunate than the Athenians, we 
cannot purchase the work of Anaxagoras on Nature at an 
orchestral book-stall for the moderate price of a drachma ; 
but we know enough about its contents to correct the some- 
what petulant and superficial criticism of a school perhaps 
less in sympathy than we are with its author's method of 
research. Evidently the Clazomenian philosopher did not 
mean by Reason an ethical force, a power which makes for 
human happiness or virtue, nor yet a reflecting intelligence, 
a designer adapting means to ends. To all appearances the 
Nous was not a spirit in the sense which we attach, or which 
Aristotle attached to the term. It was, according to Anaxa- 
goras, the subtlest and purest of all things, totally unmixed 
with other substances, and therefore able to control and 
bring them into order. This is not how men speak of an 
immaterial inextended consciousness. The truth is that no 

' Ar. DeCoelo^ III., iii., 302, a, 28. 


amount of physical science could create, although it might 
lead towards a spiritualistic philosophy. Spiritualism first 
arose from the sophistic negation of an external world, from 
the exclusive study of man, from the Socratic search after 
general definitions. Yet, if Nous originally meant intelli- 
gence, how could it lose this primary signification and be- 
come identified with a mere mode of matter ? The answer 
is, that Anaxagoras, whose whole life was spent in tracing 
out the order of Nature, would instinctively think of his own 
intelligence as a discriminating, identifying faculty ; would, 
consequently, conceive its objective counterpart under the 
form of a differentiating and integrating power. All pre- 
ceding thinkers had represented their supreme being under 
material conditions, either as one element singly or as a sum 
total where elemental differences were merged. Anaxagoras 
differed from them chiefly by the very sharp distinction 
drawn between his informing principle and the rest of Nature. 
The absolute intermixture of qualities which he presupposes 
bears a very strong resemblance both to the Sphairos of 
Empedocles and to the fiery consummation of Heracleitus, it 
may even have been suggested by them. Only, what with 
them was the highest form of existence becomes with him 
the lowest ; thought is asserting itself more and more, and 
interpreting the law of evolution in accordance with its own 
imperious demands. 

A world where ordering reason was not only raised to 
supreme power, but also jealously secluded from all com- 
munion with lower forms of existence, meant to popular ima- 
gination a world from which divinity had been withdrawn. 
The astronomical teaching of Anaxagoras was well calcu- 
lated to increase a not unfounded alarm. Underlying the 
local tribal mythology of Athens and of Greece generally, 
was an older, deeper Nature-worship, chiefly directed towards 
those heavenly luminaries which shone so graciously on all 
men, and to which all men yielded, or were supposed to yield, 


grateful homage in return. Seciirus judicat orbis terrarmn. 
Every Athenian citizen from Nicias to Strepsiades would feel 
his own belief strengthened by such a universal concurrence 
of authority. Two generations later, Plato held fast to the 
same conviction, severely denouncing its impugners, whom he 
would, if possible, have silenced with the heaviest penalties. 
To Aristotle, also, the heavenly bodies were something far 
more precious and perfect than anything in our sublunary 
sphere, something to be spoken of only in language of enthu- 
siastic and passionate love. At a far later period Marcus 
Aurelius could refer to them as visible gods ; ^ and just before 
the final extinction of Paganism highly-educated men still 
offered up their orisons in silence and secresy to the moon.^ 
Judge, then, with what horror an orthodox public received 
Anaxagoras's announcement that the moon shone only by 
reflected light, that she was an earthy body, and that her 
surface was intersected with mountains and ravines, besides 
being partially built over. The bright Selene, the Queen of 
Heaven, the most interesting and sympathetic of goddesses, 
whose phases so vividly recalled the course of human life, who 
was firmly believed to bring fine weather at her return and to 
take it away at her departure, was degraded into a cold, dark, 
senseless clod.^ Democritus observed that all this had been 
known a long time in the Eastern countries where he had 
travelled. Possibly ; but fathers of families could not have 
been more disturbed if it had been a brand-new discovery. 
The sun, too, they were told, was a red-hot stone larger than 
Peloponnesus — a somewhat unwieldy size even for a Homeric 
god. Socrates, little as he cared about physical investiga- 
tions generally, took this theory very seriously to heart, and 

' M. Antoninus, XII., 28. 

2 Zeller, Ph. d. Gr., III., b, p. 669. 

' Even regulating the calendar by the sun instead of by the moon seems to 
have been regarded as a dangerous and impious innovation by the more conserva- 
tive Athenians —at least judging from the half-serious pleasantry of Aristophanes, 
NuIk, 60S-26. (Dindorf) 


attempted to show by a series of distinctions that sun-heat 
and fire-heat were essentially different from each other. A 
duller people than the Athenians would probably have 
shown far less suspicion of scientific innovations. Men who 
were accustomed to anticipate the arguments of an orator 
before they were half out of his month, with whom the extrac- 
tion of reluctant admissions by cross-examination was habitu- 
ally used as a weapon of attack and defence in the public law 
courts and practised as a game in private circles — who were 
perpetually on their guard against insidious attacks from 
foreign and domestic foes — had minds ready trained to the 
work of an inquisitorial priesthood. An Athenian, moreover, 
had mythology at his fingers' ends ; he was accustomed to see 
its leading incidents placed before him on the stage not only 
with intense realism, but with a systematic adaptation to the 
demands of common experience and a careful concatenation 
of cause and effect, which gave his belief in them all the force 
of a rational conviction while retaining all the charm of a 
supernatural creed. Then, again, the constitution of Athens, 
less than that of any other Greek State, could be worked 
without the devoted, self-denying co-operation of her citizens, 
and in their minds sense of duty was inseparably associated 
with religious belief, based in its turn on mythological tradi- 
tions. A great poet has said, and said truly, that Athens was 
' on the will of man as on a mount of diamond set,' but the 
crystallising force which gave that collective human will such 
clearness and keenness and tenacity was faith in the protecting 
presence of a diviner Will at whose withdrawal it would have 
crumbled into dust. Lastly, the Athenians had no genius for 
natural science ; none of them were ever distinguished as 
savans. They looked on the new knowledge much as Swift 
looked on it two thousand years afterwards. It was, they 
thought, a miserable trifling waste of time, not productive of 
any practical good, breeding conceit in young men, and quite 
unworthy of receiving any attention from orators, soldiers, and 


statesmen. Pericles, indeed, thought differently, but Pericles 
was as much beyond his age when he talked about Nature 
with Anaxagoras as when he charged Aspasia with the 
government of his household and the entertainment of his 

These reflections are offered, not in excuse but in expla- 
nation of Athenian intolerance, a phenomenon for the rest 
unparalleled in ancient Greece. We cannot say that men 
were then, or ever have been, logically obliged to choose 
between atheism and superstition. If instead of using Nous 
as a half-contemptuous nickname for the Clazomenian stranger, 
his contemporaries had taken the trouble to understand what 
Nous really meant, they might have found in it the possibility 
of a deep religious significance ; they might have identified it 
with all that was best and purest in their own guardian 
goddess Athene ; have recognised it as the very foundation of 
their own most characteristic excellences. But vast spiritual 
revolutions are not so easily accomplished ; and when, before 
the lapse of many years. Nous was again presented to the 
Athenian people, this time actually personified as an Athenian 
citizen, it was again misunderstood, again rejected, and 
became the occasion for a display of the same persecuting 
spirit, unhappily pushed to a more fatal extreme. 

Under such unfavourable auspices did philosophy find a 
home in Athens. The great maritime capital had drawn to 
itself every other species of intellectual eminence, and this 
could not fail to follow with the rest. But philosophy, 
although hitherto identified with mathematical and physical 
science, held unexhausted possibilities of development in 
reserve. According to a well-known legend, Thales once fell 
into a tank while absorbed in gazing at the stars. An old 
woman advised him to look at the tank in future, for there he 
would see the water and the stars as well. Others after him 
had got into similar difiiculties, and might seek to evade 
them by a similar artifice. While busied with the study of 


cosmic evolution, they had stumbled unawares on some per- 
plexing mental problems. Why do the senses suggest beliefs 
so much at variance with those arrived at by abstract reason- 
ing ? Why should reason be more trustworthy than sense ? 
Why are the foremost Hellenic thinkers so hopelessly dis- 
agreed ? What is the criterion of truth ? Of what use are 
conclusions which cannot command universal assent ? Or, 
granting that truth is discoverable, how can it be communi- 
cated to others ? Such were some of the questions now begin- 
ning urgently to press for a solution. * I sought for myself,' 
said Heracleitus in his oracular style. His successors had to 
do even more — to seek not only for themselves but for others ; 
to study the beliefs, habits, and aptitudes of their hearers 
with profound sagacity, in order to win admission for the 
lessons they were striving to impart. And when a systematic 
investigation of human nature had once begun, it could not 
stop short with a mere analysis of the intellectual faculties ; 
what a man did was after all so very much more important 
than what he knew, was, in truth, that which alone gave his 
knowledge any practical value whatever. Moral distinctions, 
too, were beginning to grow uncertain. When every other 
traditional belief had been shaken to its foundations, when 
men were taught to doubt the evidence of their own senses, 
it was not to be expected that the conventional laws of 
conduct, at no time very exact or consistent, would continue 
to be accepted on the authority of ancient usage. Thus, every 
kind of determining influences, internal and external, con- 
spired to divert philosophy from the path which it had hitherto 
pursued, and to change it from an objective, theoretical study 
into an introspective, dialectic, practical discipline. 


And now, looking back at the whole course of early Greek 
thought, presenting as it does a gradual development and an 


organic unity which prove it to be truly a native growth, a 
spontaneous product of the Greek mind, let us take one step 
further and enquire whether before the birth of pure specula- 
tion, or parallel with but apart from its rudimentary efforts, 
there were not certain tendencies displayed in the other great 
departments of intellectual activity, fixed forms as it were in 
which the Hellenic genius was compelled to work, which re- 
produce themselves in philosophy and determine its distin- 
guishing characteristics. Although the materials for a com- 
plete Greek ethology are no longer extant, it can be shown 
that such tendencies did actually exist. 

It is a familiar fact, first brought to light by Lessing, and 
generalised by him into a law of all good literary composition, 
that Homer always throws his descriptions into a narrative 
form. We are not told what a hero wore, but how he put on 
his armour ; when attention is drawn to a particular object 
we are made acquainted with its origin and past history ; 
even the reliefs on a shield are invested with life and move- 
ment. Homer was not impelled to adopt this method either 
by conscious reflection or by a profound poetic instinct. At 
a certain stage of intellectual development, every Greek would 
find it far easier to arrange the data of experience in successive 
than in contemporaneous order ; the one is fixed, the other 
admits of indefinite variation. Pictorial and plastic art also 
begin with serial presentations, and only arrive at the con- 
struction of large centralised groups much later on. We 
have next to observe that, while Greek reflection at first 
followed the order of time, it turned by preference not to 
present or future, but to past time. Nothing in Hellenic 
literature reminds us of Hebrew prophecy. To a Greek all 
distinct prevision was merged in the gloom of coming death 
or the glory of anticipated fame. Of course, at every great 
crisis of the national fortunes much curiosity prevailed among 
the vulgar as to what course events would take ; but it was 
sedulously discouraged by the noblest minds. Herodotus and 


Sophocles look on even divine predictions as purposely 
ambiguous and misleading. Pindar often dwells on the 
hopeless uncertainty of life.' Thucydides treats all vaticina- 
tion as utterly delusive. So, when a belief in the soul's 
separate existence first obtained acceptance among the Greeks, 
it interested them far less as a pledge of never-ending life and 
progress hereafter, than as involving a possible revelation of 
past history, of the wondrous adventures which each individual 
had passed through before assuming his present form. Hence 
the peculiar force of Pindar's congratulation to the partaker 
in the Eleusinian mysteries ; after death he knows not only 
' the end of life,' but also ' its god-given beginning.' '^ Even 
the present was not intelligible until it had been projected 
back into the past, or interpreted by the light of some ancient 
tale. Sappho, in her famous ode to Aphrodite, recalls the 
incidents of a former passion precisely similar to the unre- 
quited love which now agitates her heart, and describes at 
length how the goddess then came to her relief as she is now 
implored to come again. Modern critics have spoken of this 
curious literary artifice as a sign of delicacy and reserve. We 
may be sure that Sappho was an utter stranger to such 
feelings ; she ran her thoughts into a predetermined mould 
just as a bee builds its wax into hexagonal cells. Curtius, the 
German historian, has surmised with much plausibility that 
the entire legend of Troy owes its origin to this habit of 
throwing back contemporary events into a distant past. 
According to his view, the characters and scenes recorded by 
Homer, although unhistorical as they now stand, had really a 
place in the Achaean colonisation of Asia Minor.^ But, 
apart from any disguised allusions, old stories had an inex- 
haustible charm for the Greek imagination. Even during 
the stirring events of the Peloponnesian war, elderly Athenian 

' avfx^oKov S' ov Tzdi ris dnLxdoviuv 

iriarhv aiJ.(pl Trpd^ios fffffo/xevas fupev Qe6Qev. — 01. , XII., 8-9. 
- Frag., 102. 
■' Griechischc Geschichtc, ii., II2-3 (3rd ed.). 


citizens in their hours of relaxation talked of nothing but 
mythology.* When a knowledge of reading became univer- 
sally diffused, and books could be had at a moderate price, 
ancient legends seem to have been the favourite literature of 
the lower classes, just as among ourselves in Caxton's time. 
Still more must the same taste have prevailed a century 
earlier. A student who opens Pindar's epinician odes for the 
first time is surprised to find so little about the victorious 
combatants and the struggles in which they took part, so 
much about mythical adventures seemingly unconnected with 
the ostensible subject of the poem. Furthermore, we find 
that genealogies were the framework by which these distant 
recollections were held together. Most noble families traced 
their descent back to a god or to a god-like hero. The entire 
interval separating the historical period from the heroic age 
was filled up with more or less fictitious pedigrees. A man's 
ancestry was much the most important part of his biography. 
It is likely that Herodotus had just as enthusiastic an 
admiration as we can have for Leonidas. Yet one fancies 
that a historian of later date would have shown his apprecia- 
tion of the Spartan king in a rather dififerent fashion. We 
should have been told something about the hero's personal 
appearance, and perhaps some characteristic incidents from 
his earlier career would have been related. Not so with 
Herodotus. He pauses in the story of Thermopylae to give 
us the genealogy of Leonidas up to Heracles ; no more and 
no less. That was the highest compliment he could pay, and 
it is repeated for Pausanias, the victor of Plataea.'^ The 
genealogical method was capable of wide extension, and 
could be applied to other than human or animal relationships. 
Hesiod's Theogony is a genealogy of heaven and earth, and 
all that in them is. According to Aeschylus, gain is bred 
from gain, slaughter from slaughter, woe from woe. Insolence 
bears a child like unto herself, and this in turn gives birth to 

' Aristophanes, Vcsp., 1 1 76. ^ Herod., VII., 204; IX., 64. 


a still more fatal progeny.' The same poet terminates his 
enumeration of the flaming signals that sped the message of 
victory from Troy to Argos, by describing the last beacon as 
' not ungrandsired by the Idaean fire.' ^ Now, when the Greek 
genius had begun to move in any direction, it rushed forward 
without pausing until arrested by an impassable limit, and 
then turned back to retraverse at leisure the whole interval 
separating that limit from its point of departure. Thus, the 
ascending lines of ancestry were followed up until they led to 
a common father of all ; every series of outrages was traced 
through successive reprisals back to an initial crime ; and 
more generally every event was affiliated to a preceding event, 
until the whole chain had been attached to an ultimate self- 
existing cause. Hence the records of origination, invention, 
spontaneity were long sought after with an eagerness which 
threw almost every other interest into the shade. ' Glory be 
to the inventor,' sings Pindar, in his address to victorious 
Corinth ; ' whence came the graces of the dithyrambic hymn, 
who first set the double eagle on the temples of the gods } ' ' 
The PrometJieus of Aeschylus tells how civilisation began, 
and the trilogy to which it belongs was probably intended to 
show how the supremacy of Zeus was first established and 
secured. A great part of the Agamemnon deals with events 
long anterior to the opening of the drama, but connected as 
ultimate causes with the terrible catastrophe which it repre- 
sents. In the Eumenides we see how the family, as it now 
exists, was first constituted by the substitution of paternal for 
maternal headship, and also how the worship of the Avenging 
Goddesses was first introduced into Athens, as well as how 
the Areopagite tribunal was founded. It is very probable 
that Sophocles's earliest work, the Triptolcmns, represented 
the origin of agriculture under a dramatic form ; and if the 
same poet's later pieces, as well as all those of Euripides, 

• Agam., 750-71. 2 lb., 311. 

' <9/., XIII , 17 (Donaldson). 


stand on quite different ground, occupied as they are with 
subjects of contemporaneous, or rather of eternal interest, we 
must regard this as a proof that the whole current of Greek 
thought had taken a new direction, corresponding to that 
simultaneously impressed on philosophy by Socrates and the 
Sophists. We may note further that the Aeginetan sculp- 
tures, executed soon after Salamis, though evidently intended 
to commemorate that victory, represent a conflict waged long 
before by the tutelary heroes of Aegina against an Asiatic 
foe. We may also see in our own British Museum how the 
birth of Athene was recorded in a marble group on one pedi- 
ment of the Parthenon, and the foundation of her chosen city 
on the other. The very temple which these majestic sculptures 
once adorned was a petrified memorial of antiquity, and, by 
the mere form of its architecture, must have carried back men's 
thoughts to the earliest Hellenic habitation, the simple struc- 
ture in which a gabled roof was supported by cross-beams on 
a row of upright wooden posts. 

Turning back once more from art and literature to philo- 
sophy, is it not abundantly clear that if the Greeks specu- 
lated at all, they must at first have speculated according 
to some such method as that which history proves them 
to have actually followed } They must have begun by 
fixing their thoughts, as Thales and his successors did, on the 
world's remotest past ; they must have sought for a first 
cause of things, and conceived it, not as any spiritual power, 
but as a kind of natural ancestor homogeneous with the forms 
which issued from it, although greater and more comprehensive 
than they were ; in short, as an elemental body — water, air, 
fire, or, more vaguely, as an infinite substance. Did not the 
steady concatenation of cause and effect resemble the un- 
rolling of a heroic genealogy .-' And did not the reabsorption 
of every individual existence in a larger whole translate into 
more general terms that subordination of personal to family 
and civic glory which is the diapason of Pindar's music ? 



Nor was this all. Before philosophising, the Greeks did 
not think only in the order of time ; they learned at a very 
early period to think also in the order of space, their favourite 
idea of a limit being made especially prominent here. 
Homer's geographical notions, however erroneous, are, for his 
age, singularly well defined. Aeschylus has a wide know- 
ledge of the earth's surface, and exhibits it with perhaps 
unnecessary readiness. Pindar delights to follow his mytho- 
logical heroes about on their travels. The same tendency 
found still freer scope when prose literature began. Heca- 
taeus, one of the earliest prose-writers, was great both as a 
genealogist and as a geographer ; and in this respect also 
Herodotus carried out on a great scale the enquiries most 
habitually pursued by his countrymen. Now, it will be 
remembered that we have had occasion to characterise early 
Ionian speculation as being, to a great extent, cosmography. 
The element from which it deduced all things was, in fact, 
that which was supposed to lie outside and embrace the rest. 
The geographical limit was conceived as a genealogical 
ancestor. Thus, the studies which men like Hecataeus carried 
on separately, were combined, or rather confused, in a single 
bold generalisation by Anaximenes and Heracleitus. 

Yet, however much may be accounted for by these con- 
siderations, they still leave something enexplained. Why 
should one thinker after another so unhesitatingly assume 
that the order of Nature as we know it has issued not merely 
from a different but from an exactly opposite condition, from 
universal confusion and chaos "i Their experience was far 
too limited to tell them anything about those vast cosmic 
changes which we know by incontrovertible evidence to have 
already occurred, and to be again in course of preparation. 
We can only answer this question by bringing into view 
what may be called the negative moment of Greek thought. 
The science of contraries is one, says Aristotle, and it cer- 
tainly was so to his countrymen. Not only did they delight 


to bring together the extremes of weal and woe, of pride and 
abasement, of security and disaster, but whatever they most 
loved and clung to in reality seemed to interest their imagina- 
tion most powerfully by its removal, its reversal, or its over- 
throw. The Athenians were peculiarly intolerant of regal 
government and of feminine interference in politics. In 
Athenian tragedy the principal actors are kings and royal 
ladies. The Athenian matrons occupied a position of ex- 
ceptional dignity and seclusion. They are brought upon 
the comic stage to be covered with the coarsest ridicule, and 
also to interfere decisively in the conduct of public affairs. 
Aristophanes was profoundly religious hiniself, and wrote for 
a people whose religion, as we have seen, was pushed to 
the extreme of bigotry. Yet he shows as little respect for 
the gods as for the wives and sisters of his audience. To 
take a more general example still, the whole Greek tragic 
drama is based oq the idea of family kinship, and that insti- 
tution was made most interesting to Greek spectators by the 
violation of its eternal sanctities, by unnatural hatred, and 
still more unnatural love ; or by a fatal misconception which 
causes the hands of innocent persons, more especially of 
tender women, to be armed against their nearest and dearest 
relatives in utter unconsciousness of the awful guilt about to 
be incurred. By an extension of the same psychological law 
to abstract speculation we are enabled to understand how an 
early Greek philosopher who had come to look on Nature as 
a cosmos, an orderly whole, consisting of diverse but con- 
nected and interdependent parts, could not properly grasp 
such a conception until he had substituted for it one of 
a precisely opposite character, out of which he recon- 
structed it by a process of gradual evolution. And if 
it is asked how in the first place did he come by the 
idea of a cosmos, our answer must be that he found it in 
Greek life, in societies distinguished by a many-sided but 
harmonious development of concurrent functions, and by 


voluntary obedience to an impersonal law. Thus, then, the 
circle is complete ; we have returned to our point of departure, 
and again recognise in Greek philosophy a systematised 
expression of the Greek national genius. 

We must now bring this long and complicated, but it is 
hoped not uninteresting, study to a close. We have accom- 
panied philosophy to a point where it enters on a new field, 
and embraces themes sufficiently important to form the 
subject of a separate chapter. The contributions made by 
its first cultivators to our positive knowledge have already 
been summarised. It remains to mention that there was 
nothing of a truly transcendental character about their specu- 
lations. Whatever extension we may give to that terrible 
bugbear, the Unknowable, they did not trespass on its 
domain. Heracleitus and his compeers, while penetrating 
far beyond the horizon of their age and country, kept very 
nearly within the limits of a possible experience. They 
confused some conceptions which we have learned to distin- 
guish, and separated others which we have learned to combine; 
but they were the lineal progenitors of our highest scientific 
thought ; and they first broke ground on a path where we 
must continue to advance, if the cosmos which they won for 
us is not to be let lapse into chaos and darkness again. 





In the preceding chapter we traced the rise and progress of 
physical philosophy among the ancient Greeks. We showed 
how a few great thinkers, borne on by an unparalleled develop- 
ment of intellectual activity, worked out ideas respecting the 
order of nature and the constitution of matter which, after 
more than two thousand years, still remain as fresh and fruitful 
as ever ; and we found that, in achieving these results, Greek 
thought was itself determined by ascertainable laws. Whether 
controlling artistic imagination or penetrating to the objective 
truth of things, it remained always essentially homogeneous, 
and worked under the same forms of circumscription, analysis, 
and opposition. It began with external nature, and with a far 
distant past ; nor could it begin otherwise, for only so could 
the subjects of its later meditations be reached. Only after 
less sacred beliefs have been shaken can ethical dogmas be 
questioned. Only when discrepancies of opinion obtrude 
themselves on man's notice is the need of an organising logic 
experienced. And the mind's eye, originally focussed for dis- 
tant objects alone, has to be gradually restricted in its range 
by the pressure of accumulated experience before it can turn 
from past to present, from successive to contemporaneous 
phenomena. We have now to undertake the not less interest- 
ing task of showing how the new culture, the new conceptions, 
the new power to think obtained through those earliest 


speculations, reacted on the life from which they sprang, 
transforming the moral, religious, and political creeds of 
Hellas, and preparing, as nothing else could prepare, the 
vaster revolution which has given a new dignity to existence, 
and substituted, in however imperfect a form, for the adora- 
tion of animalisms which lie below man, the adoration of an 
ideal which rises above him, but only personifies the best 
elements of his own nature, and therefore is possible for a 
perfected humanity to realise. 

While most educated persons will admit that the Greeks 
are our masters in science and literature, in politics and art, 
some even among those who are free from theological preju- 
dices will not be prepared to grant that the principles which 
claim to guide our conduct are only a wider extension or a 
more specific application of Greek ethical teaching. Hebraism 
has been opposed to Hellenism as the educating power whence 
our love of righteousness is derived, and which alone prev^ents 
the foul orgies of a primitive nature-worship from being still 
celebrated in the midst of our modern civilisation. And 
many look on old Roman religion as embodying a sense of 
duty higher than any bequeathed to us by Greece. The 
Greeks have, indeed, suffered seriously from their own sincerity. 
Their literature is a perfect image of their life, reflecting 
every blot and every flaw, unveiled, uncoloured, undisguised. 
It was, most fortunately, never subjected to the revision of a 
jealous priesthood, bent on removing every symptom incon- 
sistent with the hypothesis of a domination exercised by 
themselves through all the past. Nor yet has their history 
been systematically falsified to prove that they never wrong- 
fully attacked a neighbour, and were invariably obliged to 
conquer in self-defence. Still, even taking the records as 
they stand, it is to Greek rather than to Hebrew or Roman 
annals that we must look for examples of true virtue ; and in 
Greek literature, earlier than in any other, occur precepts like 
those which are now held to be most distinctively character- 


istic of Christian ethics. Let us never forget that only by 
Stoical teaching was the narrow and cruel formalism of 
ancient Roman law elevated into the * written reason ' of the 
imperial jurists ; only after receiving successive infiltrations 
of Greek thought was the ethnic monotheism of Judaea ex- 
panded into a cosmopolitan religion. Our popular theologians 
are ready enough to admit that Hellenism was providentially 
the means of giving Christianity a world-wide diffusion ; they 
ignore the fact that it gave the new faith not only wings to 
fly, but also eyes to see and a soul to love. From very early 
times there was an intuition of humanity in Hellas which only 
needed dialectical development to become an all-sufficient 
law of life. Homer sympathises ardently with his own 
countrymen, but he never vilifies their enemies. He did not, 
nor did any Greek, invent impure legends to account for the 
origin of hostile tribes whose kinship could not be disowned ; 
unlike Samuel, he regards the sacrifice of prisoners with un- 
mixed abhorrence. What would he, whose Odysseus will 
not allow a shout of triumph to be raised over the fallen, 
have said to Deborah's exultation at the murder of a 
suppliant fugitive } Courage was, indeed, with him the 
highest virtue, and Greek literature abounds in martial spirit- 
stirring tones, but it is nearly always by the necessities of 
self-defence that this enthusiasm is invoked ; with Pindar and 
Simonides, with Aeschylus and Sophocles, it is resistance to 
an invader that we find so proudly commemorated ; and the 
victories which make Greek history so glorious were won in 
fighting to repel an unjust aggression perpetrated either by 
the barbarians or by a tyrant state among the Greeks them- 
selves. There was, as will be shown hereafter, an unhappy 
period when right was either denied, or, what comes to the 
same thing, identified with might ; but this offensive paradox 
only served to waken true morality into a more vivid self- 
consciousness, and into the felt need of discovering for itself 
a stronger foundation than usage and tradition, a loftier 


sanction than mere worldly success could afford. The most 
universal principle of justice, to treat others as we should 
wish to be treated ourselves, seems before the Rabbi Hillel's 
time to have become almost a common-place of Greek ethics ; ' 
difficulties left unsolved by the Book of Job were raised to a 
higher level by Greek philosophy ; and long before St. Paul, 
a Plato reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment 
to come. 

No one will deny that the life of the Greeks was stained 
with foul vices, and that their theory sometimes fell to the 
level of their practice. No one who believes that moral 
truth, like all truth, has been gradually discovered, will 
wonder at this phenomenon. If moral conduct is a function 
of social life, then, like other functions, it will be subject, not 
only to growth, but also to disease and decay. An intense 
and rapid intellectual development may have for its condition 
a totally abnormal state of society, where certain vices, 
unknown to ruder ages, spring up and flourish with rank 
luxuriance. When men have to take women along with them 
on every new path of enquiry, progress will be considerably 
retarded, although its benefits will ultimately be shared 
among a greater number, and will be better insured against 
the danger of a violent reaction. But the work that Hellas 
was commissioned to perform could not wait ; it had to be 
accomplished in a few generations, or not at all. The 
barbarians were forcing their way in on every side, not 
merely with the weight of invading armies, but with the 
deadlier pressure of a benumbing superstition, with the brute- 
worship of Egypt and the devil-worship of Phoenicia, with 

' ' Thou shalt not take that which is mine, and may I do to others as I would 
that they should do to me' (Plato, Legg., 913, A. Jowett's Transl., vol. V., p. 
483). Isocrates makes a king addressing his governors say : ' You should be to 
others what you think I should be to you ' {Nicodes, 49). And again : ' Do not 
to others what it makes you angry to suffer yourselves' {Ibid., 6i). A similar 
observation is attributed to Thales, doubtless by an anachronism (Diogenes 
Laertius, I., i., 36). 


their delirious orgies, their mutilations, their crucifixions, and 
their gladiatorial contests. Already in the later dramas of 
Euripides and in the Rhodian school of sculpture, we see the 
awful shadow coming nearer, and feel the poisonous breath 
of Asia on our faces. Reason, the reason by which these 
terrors have been for ever exorcised, could only arrive at 
maturity under the influence of free and uninterrupted 
discussion carried on by men among themselves in the 
gymnasium, the agora, the ecclesia, and the dicastery. The 
resulting and inevitable separation of the sexes bred frightful 
disorders, which through all changes of creed have clung 
like a moral pestilence to the shores of the Aegean, and have 
helped to complicate political problems by joining to 
religious hatred the fiercer animosity of physical disgust. 
But whatever were the corruptions of Greek sentiment, 
Greek philosophy had the power to purge them away. 
' Follow nature ' became the watchword of one school after 
another ; and a precept which at first may have meant only 
that man should not fall below the brutes, was finally so 
interpreted as to imply an absolute control of sense by 
reason. No loftier standard of sexual purity has ever been 
inculcated than that fixed by Plato in his latest work, the 
Laws. Isocrates bids husbands set an example of conjugal 
fidelity to their wives. Socrates had already declared that 
virtue was the same for both sexes. Xenophon interests 
himself in the education of women. Plato would give them 
the same training, and everywhere associate them in the 
same functions with men. Equally decisive evidence of a 
theoretical opposition to slavery is not forthcoming, and we 
know that it was unfortunately sanctioned by Plato and 
Aristotle, in this respect no better inspired than the early 
Christians ; nevertheless, the germ of such an opposition 
existed, and will hereafter be pointed out. 

It has been said that the Greeks only worshipped beauty ; 
that they cultivated morality from the aesthetic side ; that 


virtue was with them a question, not of duty, but of taste. 
Some very strong texts might be quoted in support of this 
judgment. For example, we find Isocrates saying, in his 
encomium on Helen, that * Beauty is the first of all things in 
majesty, and honour, and divineness. It is easy to see its 
power : there are many things which have no share of 
courage, or wisdom, or justice, which yet will be found honoured 
above things which have each of these, but nothing which is 
devoid of beauty is prized ; all things are scorned which have 
not been given their part of that attribute ; the admiration 
for virtue itself comes to this, that of all manifestations of life 
virtue is the most beautifidl ^ And Aristotle distinguishes 
the highest courage as willingness to die for the koXov. So 
also Plato describes philosophy as a love ' that leads one 
from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to 
fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of 
absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty 
is. And this is that life beyond all others which man should 
live in the contemplation of beaut}'- absolute.' ^ Now, first of 
all, we must observe that, while loveliness has been worshipped 
by many others, none have conceived it under a form so 
worthy of worship as the Greeks. Beauty with them was 
neither little, nor fragile, nor voluptuous ; the soul's energies 
were not relaxed but exalted by its comtemplation ; there 
was in it an element of austere and commanding dignity. 
The Argive Here, though revealed to us only through a sof- 
tened Italian copy, has more divinity in her countenance than 
any Madonna of them all ; and the Melian Aphrodite is dis- 
tinguished by majesty of form not less than by purity and 
sweetness of expression. This beauty was the unreserved in- 
formation of matter by mind, the visible rendering of absolute 
power, wisdom, and goodness. Therefore, what a Greek wor- 

' We gladly avail ourselves of the masterly translation given by Prof. Jebb. 
The whole of this splendid passage will be found in his Adic Orators, vol. II., 
pp. 78-79. 

* Symposium, 211, C; Jowett's Transl., vol. II. 


shipped was the perpetual and ever-present energising of mind ; 
but he forgot that beauty can only exist as a combination of 
spirit with sense ; and, after detaching the higher element, he 
continued to call it by names and clothe it in attributes proper 
to its earthly manifestations alone. Yet such an extension of 
the aesthetic sentiment involved no weakening of the moral 
fibre. A service comprehending all idealisms in one demanded 
the self-effacement of a laborious preparation and the self- 
restraint of a gradual achievement. They who pitched the 
goal of their aspiration so high, knew that the paths leading 
up to it were rough, and steep, and long ; they felt that per- 
fect workmanship and perfect taste, being supremely precious, 
must be supremely difficult as well ; '^oCkzira ra KoXd they 
said, the beautiful is hard— hard to judge, hard to win, and 
hard to keep. He who has passed through that stern disci- 
pline need tremble at no other task ; nor has duty anything to 
fear from a companionship whose ultimate requirements are 
coincident with her own, and the abandonment of which for a 
joyless asceticism can only lead to the reappearance as an 
invading army of forces that should have been cherished as 
indispensable allies. 

It may be urged that beauty, however difficult of attain- 
ment or severe in form, is, after all, essentially superficial ; 
and that a morality elaborated on the same principles will be 
equally superficial — will, in fact, be little more than the art of 
keeping up appearances, of displaying fine sentiments, of 
avoiding those actions the consequences of which are imme- 
diately felt to be disagreeable, and, above all, of not needlessly 
wounding anyone's sensibilities. Such an imitation of morality 
— which it would be a mistake to call hypocrisy — has no 
doubt been common enough among all civilised nations ; but 
there is no reason to believe that it was in any way favoured 
by the circumstances of Greek life. There is even evidence of 
a contrary tendency, as, indeed, might be expected among a 
people whose most important states were saved from the corrupt- 


i ng influences of a court. Where the sympathetic admiration 
of shallow and excitable spectators is the effect chiefly sought 
after, the showy virtues will be preferred to the solid, and the 
appearance to the reality of all virtue ; while brilliant and 
popular qualities will be allowed to atone for the most atro- 
cious crimes. But, among the Greeks of the best period, 
courage and generosity rank distinctly lower than temperance 
and justice ; their poets and moralists alike inculcate the pre- 
ference of substance to show ; and in no single instance, so 
far as we can judge, did they, as modern nations often do, for 
the sake of great achievements condone great wrongs. It was 
said of a Greek and by a Greek that he did not wish to seem 
but to be just.^ We follow the judgment of the Greeks 
themselves in preferring Leonidas to Pausanias, Aristeides to 
Themistocles, and Socrates to Alcibiades. And we need 
only compare Epameinondas with David or Pericles with 
Solomon as national heroes, to perceive at once how much 
nearer the two Greeks come to our own standard of perfection, 
and how futile are the charges sometimes brought against 
those from whose traditions we have inherited their august 
and stainless fame. 

Moreover, we have not here to consider what was the 
average level of sentiment and practice among the Greeks ; 
we have to study what alone was of importance for the races 
which came under their tuition, and that is the highest moral 
judgment to which they rose. Now, the deliberate verdict of 
their philosophy on the relation between beauty and virtue is 
contained in the following passage from Plato's Laws : — 

' When anyone prefers beauty to virtue, what is this but the real 
and utter dishonour of the soul ? For such a preference implies that 
the body is more honourable than the soul ; and this is false, for 
there is nothing of earthly birth which is more honourable than the 
heavenly, and he who thinks otherwise of the soul has no idea how 
greatly he undervalues this wonderful possession.' ^ 

' Aesch., Sep. con. Theb., 592. 

2 Legg., 727, E ; Jowett's Transl, V, 299. 



Thus much for the current prejudices which seemed Hkely 
to interfere with a favourable consideration of our subject. 
We have next to study the conditions by which the form of 
Greek ethical philosophy was originally determined. Fore- 
most among these must be placed the moral conceptions 
already current long before systematic reflection could begin. 
What they were may be partly gathered from some wise saws 
attributed by the Greeks themselves to their Seven Sages, but 
probably current at a much earlier period. The pith of these 
maxims, taken collectively, is to recommend the qualities attri- 
buted by our own philosophic poet to his perfect woman : — 

' The reason firm, the temperate will, 
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill.' 

We may say almost as briefly that they inculcate complete 
independence both of our own passions and of external cir- 
cumstances, with a corresponding respect for the independence 
of others, to be shown by using persuasion instead of force. 
Their tone will perhaps be best understood by contrast with 
that collection of Hebrew proverbs which has come down to 
us under the name of Solomon, but which Biblical critics now 
attribute to a later period and a divided authorship. While 
these regularly put forward material prosperity as the chief 
motive to good conduct, Hellenic wisdom teaches indifference 
to the variations of fortune. To a Greek, ' the power that 
makes for righteousness,' so far from being ' not ourselves,' 
was our own truest self, the far-seeing reason which should 
guard us from elation and from depression, from passion and 
from surprise. Instead of being oflered old age as a reward, 
we are told to be equally prepared for a long and for a short 

Two precepts stand out before all others, which, trivial as 
they may seem, are uttered from the very soul of Greek 


experience, ' Be moderate,' and, ' Know thyself.' Their joint 
observance constitutes the characteristic virtue of Sophrosyne, 
which means all that we understand by temperance, and a great 
deal more besides ; so much, in fact, that very clever Greeks 
were hard set to define it, and very wise Greeks could pray 
for it as the fairest gift of the gods.^ Let us suppose that each 
individual has a sphere of activity marked out for him by his 
own nature and his special environment; then to discern clearly 
the limits of that sphere and to keep within them would 
be Sophrosyne, while the discernment, taken alone, would be 
wisdom. The same self-restraint operating as a check on 
interference with other spheres would be justice ; while the 
expansive force by which a man fills up his entire sphere and 
guards it against aggressions may be called courage. Thus 
we are enabled to comprehend the many-sided significance of 
Sophrosyne, to see how it could stand both for a particular 
virtue and for all virtuousness whatever. We need only glance 
at Homer's poems, and in particular at the Iliad — a much 
deeper as well, as a more brilliant work than the Odyssey — 
to perceive how very early this demand for moderation com- 
bined with self-knowledge had embodied itself in Greek 
thought. Agamemnon violates the rights of Achilles under 
the influence of immoderate passion, and through ignorance of 
how little we can accomplish without the hero's assistance. 
Achilles, again, carries his vindictiveness too far, and suffers in 
consequence. But his self-knowledge is absolutely perfect ; 
conscious that he is first in the field while others are better in 
council, he never undertakes a task to which his powers are 
not fully adequate ; nor does he enter on his final work of 
vengeance without a clear consciousness of the speedy death 
which its completion will entail on himself. Hector, too, not- 
withstanding ominous forebodings, knows his duty and does 
it, but with much less just an estimate of his own powers, 
leading him to pursue his success too far, and then, when the 
' See Plato's Charmides ; and Euripides' Medea, 635 (Dindorf). 


tide has turned, not permitting him to make a timely retreat 
within the walls of Troy. So with the secondary characters. 
Patroclus also oversteps the limits of moderation, and pays 
the penalty with his life. Diomed silently bears the unmerited 
rebuke of Agamemnon, but afterwards recalls it at a most 
effective moment, when rising to oppose the craven counsels 
of the great king. This the Greeks called observing oppor- 
tunity, and opportunism was with them, as with French poli- 
ticians, a form of moderation.' Down at the very bottom of 
the scale Thersites and Dolon are signal examples of rhen 
who do not know their sphere and suffer for their folly. In 
the Odyssey, Odysseus is a nearly perfect type of wisdom 
joined with self-control, erring, if we remember rightly, only 
once, when he insults Polyphemus before the ship is out of 
danger ; while his comrades perish from want of these same 

So far, virtue was with the Greeks what it must inevitably 
be with all men at first, chiefly self-regarding, a refined form 
of prudence. Moreover, other-regarding virtues gave less scope 
for reflection, being originally comprehended under obedience 
to the law. But there were two circumstances which could 
not long escape their notice ; first, that fraud and violence 
are often, at least apparently, profitable to those who perpe- 
trate them, a fact bitterly remarked by Hesiod ; ^ and secondly, 
that society cannot hold together without justice. It was 
long before Governments grew up willing and able to protect 
their subjects from mutual aggressions, nor does positive law 
create morality, but implies it, and could not be worked with- 
out it. Nor could international obligations be enforced by a 
superior tribunal ; hence they have remained down to the 
present day a fertile theme for ethical discussion. It is at 
this point that morality forms a junction with religion, the 
history of which is highly interesting, but which can here be 

' Pindar uses Kaip6s and jj-trpov as synonymous terms. 
^ 0pp. et Z>., 271. 


only briefly traced. The Olympian divinities, as placed before 
us by Homer, are anything but moral. Their conduct towards 
each other is that of a dissolute nobility ; towards men it is 
that of unscrupulous partisans and patrons. A loyal adhe- 
rence to friends and gratitude for sacrificial offerings are their 
most respectable characteristics, raising them already a little 
above the nature-powers whence they were derived. Now, 
mark how they first become moralised. It is by being made 
witnesses to an oath. Any one who is called in to testify to 
a promise feels aggrieved if it is broken, looking on the breach 
as an insult to his own dignity. As the Third Commandment 
well puts it, his name has been taken in vain. Thus it hap- 
pened that the same gods who left every other crime unpun- 
ished, visited perjury with severe and speedy retribution, con- 
tinued even after the offender's death.^ Respect for a con- 
tract is the primary form of moral obligation, and still seems 
to possess a peculiar hold over uneducated minds. We see 
every day how many persons will abstain from actions which 
they know to be immoral because they have given their word 
to that effect, not because the actions themselves are wrong. 
And for that reason law courts would be more willing to 
enforce contracts than to redress injuries. If, then, one person 
inflicted damage on another, he might afterwards, in order to 
escape retaliation from the injured party, or from his family, 
engage to give satisfaction, and the court would compel him 
to redeem his promise.^ Thus contract, by procuring redress 
for every species of wrong, would gradually extend its own 
obligatory character to abstinence from injury in general, and 
the divine sanctions primarily invoked on behalf of oaths 
would be extended, with them, over the whole domain of 
moral conduct. 

Nor was this all. Laws and justice once established would 

> Horn. //., IV., i6o, 235 ; VII., 76, 411 ; XVI., 386. Hes., 0pp. et D., 265. 
These references are copied from Welcker, Griechische Gotterkh-e, I., p. 178, q. v. 

"^ See Maine's Ancient Law, chap. X., The Early History of Delict and 


require to have their origin accounted for, and, according to 
the usual genealogical method of the early Greeks, would be 
described as children of the gods, who would thus be interested 
in their welfare, and would avenge their violation — a stage of 
reflection already reached in the Works and Days of Hesiod. 
Again, when oracles like that at Delphi had obtained 
wide-spread renown and authority, they would be consulted, 
not only on ceremonial questions and matters of policy, but 
also on debateable points of morality. The divine responses, 
being unbiassed by personal interest, would necessarily be 
given in accordance with received rules of rectitude, and 
would be backed by all the terrors of a supernatural sanction. 
It might even be dangerous to assume that the god could pos- 
sibly give his support to wrong-doing. A story told by 
Herodotus proves that such actually was the case. There 
lived once at Sparta a certain man named Glaucus, who had 
acquired so great a reputation for probity that, during the 
troublous times of the Persian conquest, a wealthy Milesian 
thought it advisable to deposit a large sum of money with 
him for safe keeping. After a considerable time the money 
was claimed by his children, but the honesty of Glaucus was 
not proof against temptation. He pretended to have forgot- 
ten the whole affair, and required a delay of three months 
before making up his mind with regard to the validity of their 
demand. During that interval he consulted the Delphic 
oracle to know whether he might possess himself of the money 
by a false oath. The answer was that it would be for his 
immediate advantage to do so ; all must die, the faithful and 
the perjured alike; but Horcus (oath) had a nameless son 
swift to pursue without feet, strong to grasp without hands, 
who would destroy the whole race of the sinner. Glaucus 
craved forgiveness, but was informed that to tempt the god 
was equivalent to committing the crime. He went home and 
restored the deposit, but his whole family perished utterly 
from the land before three generations had passed by. 



Yet another step remained to take. Punishment must be 
transferred from a man's innocent children to the man himself 
in a future life. But the Olympian theology was, originally at 
least, powerless to effect this revolution. Its gods, being per- 
sonifications of celestial phenomena, had nothing to do with 
the dark underworld whither men descended after death. 
There existed, however, side by side with the brilliant re- 
ligion of courts and camps which Greek poetry has made so 
familiar to us, another religion more popular with simple 
country-folk,^ to whom war meant ruin, courts of justice a 
means invented by kings for exacting bribes, sea-voyages a 
senseless imprudence, chariot-racing a sinful waste of money, 
and beautiful women drones in the human hive, demons of 
extravagance invented by Zeus for the purpose of venting his 
spite against mankind. What interest could these poor 
people take in the resplendent guardians of their hereditary 
oppressors, in Here and Athene, Apollo and Poseidon, 
Artemis and Aphrodite ? But they had other gods peculiar 
to themselves, whose worship was wrapped in mystery, partly 
that its objects need not be lured away by the attraction of 
richer offerings elsewhere, partly because the activity of these 
Chthonian deities, as they were called, was naturally associated 
with darkness and secresy. Presiding over birth and death, 
over seed-time and harvest and vintage, they personified the 
frost-bound sleep of vegetation in winter and its return from 
a dark underworld in spring. Out of their worship grew 
stories which told how Persephone, the fair daughter of 
Demeter, or Mother Earth, was carried away by Pluto to 
reign with him over the shades below, but after long searching 
was restored to her mother for eight months in every year ; 
and how Dionysus, the wine-god, was twice born, first from 

' Preller, Griechische Mythologie, I., p. 523 (3rd ed.), with which cf. Welcker, 
op, cit., I., 234 ; and Mr. Walter Pater's Demeter and Persephone, and A Study 0/ 
Dionysus, in the Fortnightly Review for Jan., Feb., and Dec. 1876. From their 
popular character, the country gods were favoured by the despots (Curtius, Gr. 
Gesch., I., p. 338). 


the earth burned up and fainting under the intolerable fire of 
a summer sky, respectively personified as Semele and her 
lover Zeus, then from the protecting mist wrapped round him 
by his divine father, of whom it formed a part. Dionysus, 
too, was subject to alternations of depression and triumph, 
from the recital of which Attic drama was developed, and 
gained a footing in the infernal regions, whither we accom- 
pany him in the Frogs of Aristophanes. Another country 
god was Hermes, who seems to have been associated with 
planting and possession as well as with the demarcation and 
exchange of property, and who was also a conductor of souls 
to Hades. Finally, there were the Erinyes, children of night 
and dwellers in subterranean darkness ; they could breed 
pestilence and discord, but could also avert them ; they could 
blast the produce of the soil or increase its luxuriance and 
fertility ; when blood was spilt on the ground, they made it 
blossom up again in a harvest of retributive hatred ; they pur- 
sued the guilty during life, and did not relax their grasp after 
death ; all law, whether physical or moral, was under their 
protection ; the same Erinyes who, in the Odyssey, avenge 
on Oedipus the suicide of his mother, in the Iliad will not 
allow the miraculous speaking of a horse to continue ; and 
we have seen in the last chapter how, according to Heracleitus, 
it is they who also prevent the sun from transgressing his 
appointed limits.^ Demeter and Persephone, too, seem to 
have been law-giving goddesses, as their great festival, cele- 
brated by women alone, was called the Thesmophoria, while 
eternal happiness was promised to those who had been initi- 
ated into their mysteries at Eleusis ; and we also find that 
moral maxims were graven on the marble busts of Hermes 
placed along every thoroughfare in Athens. We can thus 
understand why the mutilation of these Hermae caused such 

' Cf. Wordsworth — 

' Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong, 
And the most ancient heavens through thee are fresh and strong.' 

Ode to Duty. 
F 2 


rage and terror, accompanied, as it was rumoured to be, by a 
profanation of the Eleusinian mysteries ; for any attack on the 
deities in question would seem to prefigure an attack on the 
settled order of things, the popular rights which they both 
symbolised and protected. 

Here, then, we find, chiefly among the rustic population, 
a religion intimately associated with morality, and including 
the doctrine of retribution after death. But this simple faith, 
though well adapted to the few wants of its original votaries, 
could not be raised to the utmost expansion and purity of 
which it was susceptible without being brought into vivifying 
contact with that other Olympian religion which, as we have 
seen, belonged more peculiarly to the ruling aristocracy. The 
poor may be more moral than the rich, and the country than 
the town ; nevertheless it is from dwellers in cities, and from 
the higher classes, including as they do a large percentage of 
educated, open-minded individuals, that the impulses to 
moral progress always proceed. If the narrowness and hard- 
ness of primitive social arrangements were overcome ; if 
justice was disengaged from the ties of blood-relationship, 
and tempered with consideration for inevitable error ; if 
deadly feuds were terminated by a habitual appeal to arbitra- 
tion ; if the worship of one supreme ideal was substituted for 
a blind sympathy with the ebb and flow of life on earth ; if 
the numerical strength of states was increased by giving 
shelter to fugitives ; if a Hellenic nation was created and 
held together by a common literature and a common civili- 
sation, by oracles accessible to all, and by periodical games 
in which every free-born Greek could take part ; and, lastly, 
if a brighter abode than the slumberous garden of Persephone 
was assigned after death to the godlike heroes who had come 
forth from a thrice repeated ordeal with souls unstained by 
sin ; * — all this was due to the military rather than to the 
industrial classes, to the spirit that breathes through Homer 
' Pindar, Olymp,, II., 57 ff. ; and Fragm., I-4 (Donaldson). 


rather than to the tamer inspiration of Hesiod's muse. But 
if justice was raised to an Olympian throne ; if righteous pro- 
vidence, no less than creative power, became an inalienable 
attribute of Zeus ; if lyric poetry, from Archilochus to 
Simonides and Pindar, is one long hymn of prayer and 
praise ever turned upward in adoring love to the Divine ; we 
must remember that Themis was a synonyme for Earth, and 
that Prometheus, the original friend of humanity, for whose 
benefit he invented every useful art, augury included, was her 
son. The seeds of immortal hope were first planted in the 
fructifying bosom of Demeter, and life, a forsaken Ariadne, 
took refuge in the mystical embraces of Dionysus from the 
memory of a promise that had allured her to betray. Thus, 
we may conjecture that between hall and farm-house, between 
the Olympian and the Chthonian religions, there was a con- 
stant reaction going on, during which ethical ideas were con- 
tinually expanding, and extricating themselves from the 
superstitious elements associated with their earliest theolo- 
gical expression. 


This process was conceived by Aeschylus as a conflict 
between two generations of gods, ending with their complete 
reconciliation. In the Prometheus Bound we have the com- 
mencement of the conflict, in the EuiJienides its close. Our 
sympathies are apparently at first intended to be enlisted on 
behalf of the older divinities, but at last are claimed exclu- 
sively by the younger. As opposed to Prometheus, Zeus is 
evidently in the v/rong, and seeks to make up for his defi- 
ciencies by arbitrary violence. In the Oresteia he is the 
champion of justice against iniquity, and through his inter- 
preter, Apollo, he enforces a revised moral code against the 
antiquated claims of the Erinyes ; these latter, however, ulti- 
mately consenting to become guardians of the new social 


order. The Aeschylean drama shows us Greek religion at the 
highest level it could reach, unaided by philosophical reflec- 
tion. With Sophocles a perceptible decline has already 
begun. We are loth to say anything that may sound like 
disparagement of so noble a poet. We }-ield to none in 
admiration for one who has combined the two highest 
qualities of art — sweetness and strength — more completely 
than any other singer, Homer alone excepted, and who has 
given the primordial affections their definitive expression for 
all time. But we cannot help perceiving an element of 
superstition in his dramas, which, so far, distinguishes 
them unfavourably from those of his Titanic predecessor. 
With Sophocles, when the gods interfere, it is to punish dis- 
respect towards themselves, not to enforce justice between 
man and man. Ajax perishes by his own hand because he 
has neglected to ask for divine assistance in battle. Laius 
and Jocastc come to a tragic end through disobedience to a 
perfectly arbitrary oracle ; and as a part of the same divine 
purpose Oedipus encounters the most frightful calamities by 
no fault of his own. The gods are, moreover, exclusively 
objects of fear ; their sole business is to enforce the fulfilment 
of enigmatic prophecies ; they give no assistance to the pious 
and virtuous characters. Antigone is allowed to perish for 
having performed the last duties to her brother's corpse. 
Neoptolemus receives no aid in that struggle between ambi- 
tion on the one hand with truthfulness and pity on the other 
which makes his character one of the most interesting 
in all imaginative literature. When Athene bids Odysseus 
exult over the degradation of Ajax, the generous Ithacan 
refuses to her face, and falls back on the consciousness of a 
common humanity uniting him in sympathy with his prostrate 

The rift within the lute went on widening till all its 
music was turned to jarring discord. With the third great 
Attic dramatist we arrive at a period of complete dissolution. 


Morality is not only separated from mythological tradition, 
but is openly at war with it. Religious belief, after becoming 
almost monotheistic, has relapsed into polytheism. With 
Euripides the gods do not, as with his predecessors, form a 
common council. They lead an independent existence, not 
interfering with each other, and pursuing private ends of their 
own — often very disreputable ones. Aphrodite inspires 
Phaedra with an incestuous passion for her stepson. Artemis 
is propitiated by human sacrifices. Here causes Heracles to 
kill his children in a fit of delirium. Zeus and Poseidon are 
charged with breaking their own laws, and setting a bad ex- 
ample to mortals. Apollo, once so venerated, fares the 
worst of any. He outrages a noble maiden, and succeeds in 
palming off her child on the man whom she subsequently 
marries. He instigates the murder of a repentant enemy 
who has come to seek forgiveness at his shrine. He fails to 
protect Orestes from the consequences of matricide, com- 
mitted at his own unwise suggestion. Political animosity 
may have had something to do with these attacks on a god 
who was believed to side with the Dorian confederacy against 
Athens. Doubtless, also, Euripides disbelieved many of the 
scandalous stories which he selected as appropriate materials 
for dramatic representation. But a satire on immoral beliefs 
would have been unnecessary had they not been generally 
accepted. Nor was the poet himself altogether a freethinker. 
One of his latest and most splendid works, the BaccJiae, is 
a formal submission to the orthodox creed. Under the 
stimulus of an insane delusion, Pentheus is torn to pieces by 
his mother Agave and her attendant Maenads, for having 
presumed to oppose the introduction of Dionysus-worship 
into Thebes. The antecedents of the new divinity are ques- 
tionable, and the nature of his influence on the female 
population extremely suspicious. Yet much stress is laid on 
the impiety of Pentheus, and we are clearly intended to con- 
sider his fate as well-deserved. 


Euripides is not a true thinker, and for that very reason 
fitly typifies a period when religion had been shaken to its 
very foundation, but still retained a strong hold on men's 
minds, and might at any time reassert its ancient authority 
with unexpected vigour. We gather, also, from his writings, 
that ethical sentiment had undergone a parallel transforma- 
tion. He introduces characters and actions which the elder 
dramatists would have rejected as unworthy of tragedy, and 
not only introduces them, but composes elaborate speeches in 
their defence. Side by side with examples of devoted heroism 
we find such observations as that everyone loves himself 
best, and that those are most prosperous who attend most 
exclusively to their own interests. It so happens that in one 
instance where Euripides has chosen a subject already handled 
by Aeschylus, the difference of treatment shows how great a 
moral revolution had occurred in the interim. The conflict 
waged between Eteocles and Polyneices for their father's 
throne is the theme both of the Seven against Thebes and of 
the Phoenician Women. In both, Polyneices bases his claim 
on grounds of right. It had been agreed that he and his 
brother should alternately hold sway over Thebes. His 
turn has arrived, and Eteocles refuses to give way. Poly- 
neices endeavours to enforce his pretensions by bringing a 
foreign army against Thebes. Aeschylus makes him appear 
before the walls with an allegorical figure of Justice on his 
shield, promising to restore him to his father's seat. On 
hearing this, Eteocles exclaims : — 

'Aye, if Jove's virgin daughter Justice shared 
In deed or thought of his, then it might be. 
But neither when he left the darkling vvumb, 
Nor in his childhood, nor in youth, nor when 
The clustering hair first gathered round his chin, 
Hath Justice turned approving eyes on him ; 
Nor deem I that she comes as his ally. 
Now that he wastes his native land with war, 
Or Justice most unjustly were she called 
If ruthless hearts could claim her fellowship.' ' 
' Sep. con. T/iel>., 662-71. 


Euripides, with greater dramatic skill, brings the two brothers 
together in presence of their mother, Jocaste. When Poly- 
neices has spoken, Eteocles replies : — 

' Honour and wisdom are but empty names 
That mortals use, each with a different meaning, 
Agreeing in the sound, not in the sense. 
Hear, mother, undisguised my whole resolve ! 
Were Sovereignty, chief goddess among gods. 
Far set as is the rising of a star, 
Or buried deep in subterranean gloom, 
There I would seek and win her for mine own. 

Come fire, come sword, yoke horses to the car, 
And fill the plain with armed men, for I 
Will not give up my royalty to him ! 
Let all my life be guiltless save in this ; 
I dare do any wrong for sovereign power — 
The splendid guerdon of a splendid sin.' ^ 

The contrast is not only direct, but designed, for Euripides 
had the work of his predecessor before him, and no doubt 
imagined that he was improving on it. 

We perceive a precisely similar change of tone on com- 
paring the two great historians who have respectively re- 
corded the struggle of Greece against Persia, and the struggle 
of imperial Athens against Sparta and her allies. Though 
born within fifteen years of one another, Herodotus and 
Thucydides are virtually separated by an interval of two 
generations, for while the latter represents the most advanced 
thought of his time, the former lived among traditions in- 
herited from the age preceding his own. Now, Herodotus is 
not more remarkable for the earnest piety than for the clear 
sense of justice which runs through his entire work. He 
draws no distinction between public and private morality. 
Whoever makes war on his neighbours without provocation, 
or rules without the consent of the governed, is, accord- 
ing to him, in the wrong, although he is well aware that such 
wrongs are constantly committed. Thucydides knows nothing 

' Phoenissae, 503-23. 


of supernatural interference in human affairs. After relating 
the tragical end of Nicias, he observes, not without a sceptical 
tendency, that of all the Greeks then living, this unfortunate 
general least deserved such a fate, so far as piety and 
respectability of character went. If there are gods they hold 
their position by superior strength. That the strong should 
enslave the weak is a universal and necessary law of Nature. 
The Spartans, who among themselves are most scrupulous 
in observing traditional obligations, in their dealings with 
others most openly identify gain with honour, and ex- 
pediency with right. Even if the historian himself did not 
share these opinions, it is evident that they were widely 
entertained by his contemporaries, and he expressly informs 
us that Greek political morality had deteriorated to a fright- 
ful extent in consequence of the civil discords fomented by 
the conflict between Athens and Sparta ; while, in Athens at 
least, a similar corruption of private morality had begun with 
the great plague of 430, its chief symptom being a mad desire 
to extract the utmost possible enjoyment from life, for which 
purpose every means was considered legitimate. On this 
point Thucydides is confirmed and supplemented by the 
evidence of another contemporary authority. According to 
Aristophanes, the ancient discipline had in his time become 
very much relaxed. The rich were idle and extravagant ; 
the poor mutinous ; young men were growing more and more 
insolent to their elders ; religion was derided ; all classes 
were animated by a common desire to make money and 
to spend it on sensual enjoyment. Only, instead of tracing 
back this profound demoralisation to a change in the social 
environment, Aristophanes attributes it to demagogues, 
harassing informers, and popular poets, but above all to the 
new culture then coming into vogue. Physical science had 
brought in atheism ; dialectic training had destroyed the 
sanctity of ethical restraints. When, however, the religious 
and virtuous Socrates is put forward as a type of both tend- 


encies, our confidence in the comic poet's accuracy, if not in 
his good faith, becomes seriously shaken ; and his whole tone 
so vividly recalls the analogous invectives now hurled from 
press and pulpit against every philosophic theory, every 
scientific discovery, every social reform at variance with 
traditional beliefs or threatening the sinister interests which 
have gathered round iniquitous institutions, that at first we 
feel tempted to follow Grote in rejecting his testimony alto- 
gether. So far, however, as the actual phenomena themselves 
are concerned, and apart from their generating antecedents, 
Aristophanes does but bring into more picturesque promi- 
nence what graver observers are content to indicate, and what 
Plato, writing a generation later, treats as an unquestionable 
reality. Nor is the fact of a lowered moral tone going along 
with accelerated mental activity either incredible or un- 
paralleled. Modern history knows of at least two periods 
remarkable for such a conjunction, the Renaissance and the 
eighteenth century, the former stained with every imaginable 
crime, the latter impure throughout, and lapsing into blood- 
thirsty violence at its close. Moral progress, like every other 
mode of motion, has its appropriate rhythm — its epochs of 
severe restraint followed by epochs of rebellious license. And 
when, as an aggravation of the reaction from which they 
periodically sufter, ethical principles have become associated 
with a mythology whose decay, at first retarded, is finally 
hastened by their activity, it is still easier to understand how 
they may share in its discredit, and only regain their ascend- 
ency by allying themselves with a purified form of the old 
religion, until they can be disentangled from the compromising 
support of all unverified theories whatever. We have every 
reason to believe that Greek life and thought did pass through 
such a crisis during the second half of the fifth century B.C., 
and we have now to deal with the speculative aspects of that 
crisis, so far as they are represented by the Sophists. 


IV. , 

The word Sophist in modern languages means one who 
purposely uses fallacious arguments. Our definition was 
probably derived from that given by Aristotle in his Topics, 
but does not entirely reproduce it. What we call sophistry 
was with him eristic, or the art of unfair disputation ; and by 
Sophist he means one who practises the eristic art for gain. 
He also defines sophistry as the appearance without the 
reality of wisdom. A very similar account of the Sophists 
and their art is given by Plato in what seems to be one of his 
later dialogues ; and another dialogue, probably composed 
some time previously, shows us how eristic was actually 
practised by two Sophists, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, 
who had learned the art, which is represented as a very easy 
accomplishment, when already old men. Their performance 
is not edifying ; and one only wonders how any Greek could 
have been induced to pay for the privilege of witnessing such 
an exhibition. But the word Sophist, in its original significa- 
tion, was an entirely honourable name. It meant a sage, a 
wise and learned man,, like Solon, or, for that matter, like 
Plato and Aristotle themselves. The interval between these 
widely-different connotations is filled up and explained by a 
number of individuals as to whom our information is princi- 
pally, though by no means entirely, derived from Plato. AH 
of them were professional teachers, receiving payment for 
their services ; all made a particular study of language, some 
aiming more particularly at accuracy, others at beauty of 
expression. While no common doctrine can be attributed to 
them as a class, as individuals they are connected by a series 
of graduated transitions, the final outcome of which will 
enable us to understand how, from a title of respect, their 
name could be turned into a byword of reproach. The 
Sophists, concerning whom some details have been trans- 


mitted to us, are Protagoras, Gorgias, Prodicus, Hippias, 
Polus, Thrasymachus, and the Eristics already mentioned. 
We have placed them, so far as their ages can be determined, 
in chronological order, but their logical order is somewhat 
different. The first two on the list were born about 480 B.C., 
and the second pair possibly twenty years later. But neither 
Protagoras nor Gorgias seems to have published his most 
characteristic theories until a rather advanced time of life, 
for they are nowhere alluded to by the Xenophontic Socrates, 
who, on the other hand, is well acquainted with both Prodicus 
and Hippias, while, conversely, Plato is most interested in the 
former pair. We shall also presently see that the scepticism 
of the elder Sophists can best be explained by reference to 
the more dogmatic theories of their younger contemporaries, 
which again easily fit on to the physical speculations of earlier 

Prodicus was born in Ceos, a little island belonging to the 
Athenian confederacy, and seems to have habitually resided 
at Athens. His health was delicate, and he wrapped up a 
good deal, as we learn from the ridicule of Plato, always 
pitiless to a valetudinarian. Judging from two allusions in 
Aristophanes, he taught natural science in such a manner as 
to conciliate even that unsparing enemy of the new learning. ' 
He also gave moral instruction grounded on the traditional 
ideas of his country, a pleasing specimen of which has been 
preserved. It is conveyed under the form of an apologue, 
enfitled the Choice of Heracles, and was taken down in its 
present form by Xenophon from the lips of Socrates, who 
quoted it, with full approval, for the benefit of his own 
disciples. Prodicus also lectured on the use of words, 
laying especial emphasis on the distinction of .synonyms. We 
hear, not without sympathy, that he tried to check the 

' oil yap &\A<f> y' viraKovirat/xev rwv vvv fieT€a>po(ro<ptcrTuiv 
irX^v fi UpoS'iKif, t4> fifv ffo<pias Kal yvwfx.-ns ovvfKa /c.t.A. — 

A'n!'., 361-2. Cf. Av., 692. 


indiscriminate employment of * awful ' (^zivos)., which was even 
more rife at Athens than among ourselves. Finally, we are 
told that, like many moderns, he considered the popular 
divinities to be personifications of natural phenomena. 
Hippias, who was a native of Elis, seems to have taught on 
very much the same system. It would appear that he 
lectured principally on astronomy and physics, but did not 
neglect language, and is said to have invented an art of 
memory. His restless inquisitiveness was also exercised on 
ancient history, and his erudition in that subject was taxed 
to the utmost during a visit to Sparta, where the unlettered 
people still delighted in old stories, which among the more 
enlightened Greeks had been superseded by topics of livelier 
and fresher interest. At Sparta, too, he recited, with great 
applause, an ethical discourse under the form of advice given 
by Nestor to Neoptolemus after the capture of Troy. We 
know, on good authority, that Hippias habitually dis- 
tinguished between natural and customary law, the former 
being, according to him, everywhere the same, while the latter 
varied from state to state, and in the same state at dif- 
ferent times. Natural law he held to be alone binding and 
alone salutary. On this subject the following expressions, 
evidently intended to be characteristic, are put into his mouth 
by Plato : — ' All of you who are here present I reckon to be 
kinsmen and friends and fellow-citizens, by nature and not by 
law ; for by nature like is akin to like, whereas law is the 
tyrant of mankind, and often compels us to do many things 
which are against Nature.' ^ Here two distinct ideas are 
implied, the idea that Nature is a moral guide, and, further, 
the idea that she is opposed to convention. The habit of 
looking for examples and lessons to some simpler life than 
their own prevailed among the Greeks from a very early 
period, and is, indeed, very common in primitive societies. 
Homer's similes are a case in point ; while all that we are told 

' Plato, Protagoras, 337, D ; Jowett's Transl., vol. I., p. 152. 


about the innocence and felicity of the Aethiopians and 
Hyperboreans seems to indicate a deep-rooted belief in the 
moral superiority of savage to civilised nations ; and Hesiod's 
fiction of the Four Ages, beginning with a golden age, arises 
from a kindred notion that intellectual progress is accompa- 
nied by moral corruption. Simonides of Amorgus illustrates 
the various types of womankind by examples from the 
animal world ; and Aesop's fables, dating from the first half 
of the sixth century, give ethical instruction under the same 
disguise. We have already pointed out how Greek rural 
religion established a thorough-going connexion between 
physical and moral phenomena, and how Heracleitus fol- 
lowed in the same track. Now, one great result of early 
Greek thought, as described in our first chapter, was to 
combine all these scattered fugitive incoherent ideas under 
a single conception, thus enabling them to elucidate and 
support one another. This was the conception of Nature as a 
universal all-creative eternal power, first superior to the gods, 
then altogether superseding them. When Homer called Zeus 
the father of gods and men ; when Pindar said that both races, 
the divine and the human, are sprung from one mother 
(Earth); ' when, again, he spoke of law as an absolute king ; 
or when Aeschylus set destiny above Zeus himself ; ^ they 
were but foreshadowing a more despotic authority, whose 
dominion is even now not extinct, is perhaps being renewed 
under the title of Evolution. The word Nature was used by 
most philosophers, and the thing was implied by all. They 
did not, indeed, commit the mistake of personifying a con- 
venient abstraction ; but a conception which they substituted 
for the gods would soon inherit every attribute of divine 
agency. Moreover, the Nature of philosophy had three 
fundamental attributes admitting of ready application as 
ethical standards. She was everywhere the same ; fire 
burned in Greece and Persia alike. She tended towards an 

' Netn., VI,, sub, in. '' Prom., 518. 


orderly system where every agent or element is limited to 
its appropriate sphere. And she proceeded on a principle of 
universal compensation, all gains in one direction being paid 
for by losses in another, and every disturbance being 
eventually rectified by a restoration of equilibrium. It was, 
indeed, by no means surprising that truths which were 
generalised from the experience of Greek social life should 
now return to confirm the orderliness of that life with the 
sanction of an all-pervading law. 

Euripides gives us an interesting example of the style in 
which this ethical application of physical science could be 
practised. We have seen how Eteocles expresses his deter- 
mination to do and dare all for the sake of sovereign power. 
His mother, Jocaste, gently rebukes him as follows : — 

' Honour Equality who binds together 
Both friends and cities and confederates, 
For equity is law, law equity ; 
The lesser is the greater's enemy. 
And disadvantaged aye begins the strife. 
From her our measures, weights, and numbers come, 
Defined and ordered by Equality ; 
So do the night's blind eye and sun's bright orb 
Walk equal courses in their yearly round, 
And neither is embittered by defeat ; 
And while both light and darkness serve niankind 
Wilt thou not bear an equal in thy house ? ' ^ 

On examining the apologue of Prodicus, we find it 
characterised by a somewhat similar style of reasoning. 
There is, it is true, no reference to physical phenomena, but 
Virtue dwells strongly on the truth that nothing can be had 
for nothing, and that pleasure must either be purchased by 
toil or atoned for by languor, satiety, and premature decay, 

' Phoenissae, 536-47. There is a delicious parody of this method in the Clouds. 
A creditor asks Strepsiades, who has been taking lessons in philosophy, to pay 
him the interest on a loan. Strepsiades begs to know whether the sea is any 
fuller now than it used to be. ' No,' replies the other, ' for it would not be just,' 
(ov yap SIkuiov TrXelov elvai). 'Then, you wretch,' rejoins his debtor, 'do you 
suppose that the sea is not to get any fuller although all the rivers are flowing into 
it, and that yrnr money is to go on increasing?' (1290-95.) 


We know also that the Cynical school, as represented by 
Antisthen^s, rejected all pleasure on the ground that it was 
always paid for by an equal amount of pain ; and Heracles, 
the Prodicean type of a youth who follows virtue in prefer- 
ence to vice disguised as happiness, was also the favourite 
hero of the Cynics. Again, Plato alludes, in the Phi/ebiis, 
to certain thinkers, reputed to be ' great on the subject of 
physics,' who deny the very existence of pleasure. Critics 
have been at a loss to identify these persons, and rather 
reluctantly put up with the explanation that Antisthenes and 
his school are referred to. Antisthenes was a friend of 
Prodicus, and may at one time have shared in his scientific 
studies, thus giving occasion to the association touched on by 
Plato. But is it not equally possible that Prodicus left 
behind disciples who, like him, combined moral with physical 
teaching ; and, going a little further, may we not conjecture 
that their opposition to Hedonism was inherited from the 
master himself, who, like the Stoics afterwards, may have 
based it on an application of physical reasoning to ethics } 

StiU- more important was the antithesis between Nature 
and convention; which, so far as we know, originated exclu- 
sively with Hippias. We have already observed that 
universality and necessity were, with the Greeks, standing 
marks of naturalness. The customs of different countries 
were, on the other hand, distinguished by extreme variety, 
amounting sometimes to diametrical opposition. Herodotus 
was fond of calling attention to such contrasts ; only, he 
drew from them the conclusion that laiv, to be so arbitrary, 
must needs possess supreme and sacred authority. According 
to the more plausible interpretation of Hippias, the variety, 
and at least in Greek democracies, the changeability of law 
proved that it was neither sacred nor binding. He also 
looked on artificial social institutions as the sole cause of 
division and discord among mankind. Here we already see the 
dawn of a cosmopolitanism afterwards preached by Cynic and 



Stoic philosophers. Furthermore, to discover the natural rule of 
right, he compared the laws of different nations, and selected 
those which were held by all in common as the basis of an 
ethical system.^ Now, this is precisely what was done by 
the Roman jurists long afterwards under the inspiration of 
Stoical teaching. We have it on the high authority of Sir 
Henry Maine that they identified the Jus Gentitim, that 
is, the laws supposed to be observed by all nations alike, 
with the Jus Naturale, that is,.the. Qodje_by which men were 
governed in their primitive condition of innocence. It was 
by a gradual application of this ideal standard that the 
numerous inequalities between different classes of persons, 
enforced by ancient Roman law, were removed, and that 
contract was substituted for status. Above all, the abolition 
of slavery was, if not directly caused, at any rate powerfully 
aided, by the belief that it was against Nature. At the 
beginning of the fourteenth century we find Louis Hutin, 
King of France, assigning as a reason for the enfranchise- 
ment of his serfs, that, ' according to natural law, everybody 
ought to be born free,' and although Sir H. Maine holds this 
to have been a mistaken interpretation of the juridical axiom 
' omnes homines natura aequales sunt,' which means not an 
ideal to be attained, but a primitive condition from which we 
have departed : nevertheless it very faithfully reproduces the 
theory of those Greek philosophers from whom the idea of a 
natural law was derived. That, in Aristotle's time at least, 
a party existed who were opposed to slavery on theoretical 
grounds of right is perfectly evident from the language of the 
Politics. ' Some persons,' says Aristotle, ' think that slave - 
holding is against nature, for that one man is a slave and 
another free by law, while by nature there is no difference 
between them, for which reason it is unjust as being the 
result of force.' ^ And he proceeds to prove the contrary at 
length. The same doctrine of natural equality led to im- 
portant political consequences, having, again according to Sir 

' Xenophon, Memor., IV., iv., 19. * Pol., I., ii. 


H, Maine, contributed both to the American Declaration of 
Independence and to the French Revolution, 

There is one more aspect deserving our attention, under 
which the theory of Nature has been presented both in 
ancient and modern times. A dialogue which, whether 
rightly or wrongly attributed to Plato, may be taken as good 
evidence on the subject it relates to,' exhibits Hippias in the 
character of a universal genius, who can not only teach every 
science and practise every kind of literary composition, but 
has also manufactured all the clothes and other articles about 
his person. Here we have precisely the sort of versatility which 
characterises uncivilised society, and which believers in a 
state of nature love to encourage at all times. The division 
of labour, while it carries us ever farther from barbarism, 
makes us more dependent on each other. An Odysseus is 
master of many arts, a Themistocles of two, a Demosthenes 
of only one. A Norwegian peasant can do more for himself 
than an English countryman, and therefore makes a better 
colonist. If we must return to Nature, our first step should 
be to learn a number of trades, and so be better able to shift 
for ourselves. Such was the ideal of Hippias, and it was also 
the ideal of the eighteenth century. Its literature begins 
with Robinson Crusoe, the story of a man who is accident- 
ally compelled to provide himself, during many years, with 
all the necessaries of life. Its educational manuals are, in 
France, Rousseau's ^mile ; in England, Day's Sandford 
and Merton, both teaching that the young should be thrown 
as much as possible on their own resources. One of its types 
is Diderot, who learns handicrafts that he may describe them 
in the Encyclopedie. Its two great spokesmen are Voltaire 
and Goethe, who, after cultivating every department of litera- 
ture, take in statesmanship as well. And its last word is 
Schiller's Letters on Aesthetic Cnltiire, holding up totality 
of existence as the supreme ideal to be sought after. 

' The Hippias Minor. 

G 2 


There is no reason to believe that Hippias used his dis- 
tinction between Nature and convention as an argument for 
despotism. It would rather appear that, if anything, he and 
his school desired to establish a more complete equality men. Others, however, both rhetoricians and prac- 
tical statesmen, were not slow to draw an opposite conclusion. 
They saw that where no law was recognised, as between 
different nations, nothing but violence and the right of the 
stronger prevailed. It was once believed that aggressions 
which human law could not reach found no favour with the 
gods, and dread of the divine displeasure may have done 
something towards restraining them. But religion had partly 
been destroyed by the new culture, partly perverted into a 
sanction for wrong-doing. By what right, it was asked, did 
Zeus himself reign ? Had he not unlawfully dethroned his 
father, Cronos, and did he not now hold power simply by 
virtue of superior strength } Similar reasonings were soon 
applied to the internal government of each state. It was 
alleged that the ablest citizens could lay claim to uncon- 
trolled supremacy by a title older than any social fiction. 
Rules of right meant nothing but a permanent conspiracy of 
the weak to withdraw themselves from the legitimate dominion 
of their born master, and to bamboozle him into a voluntary 
surrender of his natural privileges. Sentiments bearing a 
superficial resemblance to these have occasionally found 
utterance among ourselves. Nevertheless, it would be most 
unjust to compare Carlyle and Mr. Froude with Critias and 
Callicles. We believe that their preference of despotism to 
representative government is an entire mistake. But we 
know that with them as with us the good of the governed 
is the sole end desired. The gentlemen of Athens sought 
after supreme power only as a means for gratifying their 
worst passions without let or hindrance ; and for that purpose 
they were ready to ally themselves with every foreign enemy 
in turn, or to flatter the caprices of the Demos, if that policy 


promised to answer equally well. The antisocial theories of 
these ' young lions,' as they were called by their enemies and 
sometimes by themselves also, do not seem to have been 
supported by any public teacher. If we are to believe Plato, 
Polus, a Sicilian rhetor, did indeed regard Archelaus, the 
abler Louis Napoleon of his time, with sympathy and envious 
admiration, but without attempting to justify the crimes of 
his hero by an appeal to natural law. The corruption of 
theoretical morality among the paid teachers took a more 
subtle form. Instead of opposing one principle to another, 
they held that all law had the same source, being an emana- 
tion from the will of the stronger, and exclusively designed 
to promote his interest. Justice, according to Thrasymachus 
in the Republic, is another's good, which is true enough, and 
to practise it except under compulsion is foolish, which, what- 
ever Grote may say, is a grossly immoral doctrine. 


We have seen how the idea of Nature, first evolved by 
physical philosophy, was taken by some, at least, among the 
Sophists as a basis for their ethical teaching ; then how an 
interpretation utterly opposed to theirs was put on it by 
practical men, and how this second interpretation was so 
generalised by the younger rhetoricians as to involve the 
denial of all morality whatever. Meanwhile, another equally 
Important conception, destined to come into speedy and 
prolonged antagonism with the idea of Nature, and like it to 
exercise a powerful influence on ethical reflection, had 
almost contemporaneously been elaborated out of the 
materials which earlier speculation supplied. From Par- 
menides and Heracleitus down, every philosopher who had 
propounded a theory of the world, had also more or less 
peremptorily insisted on the fact that his theory difi"ered 
widely from common belief Those who held that change is 


impossible, and those who taught that everything is 
incessantly changing ; those who asserted the indestructibility 
of matter, and those who denied its continuity ; those who 
took away objective reality from every quality except 
extension and resistance, and those who affirmed that the 
smallest molecules partook more or less of every attribute 
that is revealed to sense — all these, however much they 
might disagree among themselves, agreed in declaring that 
the received opinions of mankind were an utter delusion. 
Thus, a sharp distinction came to be drawn between the 
misleading sense-impressions and the objective reality to 
which thought alone could penetrate. It was by combining 
these two elements, sensation and thought, that the idea of 
mind was originally constituted. And mind when so under- 
stood could not well be accounted for by any of the 
materialistic hypotheses at first proposed. The senses must 
differ profoundly from that of which they give such an 
unfaithful report ; while reason, which Anaxagoras had so 
carefully differentiated from every other form of existence, 
carried back its distinction to the subjective sphere, and 
became clothed with a new spirituality when reintegrated in 
the consciousness of man. 

The first result of this separation between man and the 
world was a complete breach with the old physical philo- 
sophy, shown, on the one hand, by an abandonment of 
speculative studies, on the other, by a substitution of con- 
vention for Nature as the recognised standard of right. 
Both consequences were drawn by Protagoras, the most 
eminent of the Sophists. We have now to consider more 
particularly what was his part in the great drama of which 
we are attempting to give an intelligible account. 

Protagoras was born about 480 B.C. He was a fellow- 
townsman of Democritus, and has been represented, though 
not on good authority, as a disciple of that illustrious 
thinker. It was rather by a study of Heracleitus that his 


philosophical opinions, so far as they were borrowed from 
others, seem to have been most decisively determined. In 
any case, practice, not theory, was the principal occupation of 
his life. He gave instruction for payment in the higher 
branches of a liberal education, and adopted the name of 
Sophist, which before had simply meant a wise man, as an 
honourable title for his new calling. Protagoras was a very 
popular teacher. The news of his arrival in a strange city 
excited immense enthusiasm, and he was followed from 
place to place by a band of eager disciples. At Athens he 
was honoured by the friendship of such men as Pericles and 
Euripides. It was at the house of the great tragic poet that 
he read out a work beginning with the ominous declaration, 
' I cannot tell whether the gods exist or not ; life is too short 
for such difficult investigations.' * Athenian bigotry took 
alarm directly. The book containing this frank confession 
of agnosticism was publicly burned, all purchasers being 
compelled to give up the copies in their possession. The 
author himself was either banished or took flight, and 
perished by shipwreck on the way to Sicily before completing 
his seventieth year. 

The scepticism of Protagoras went beyond theology and 
extended to all science whatever. Such, at least, seems to 
have been the force of his celebrated declaration that ' man 
is the measure of all things, both as regards their existence 
and their non-existence.' ^ According to Plato, this doctrine 
followed from the identification of knowledge with sensible 
perception, which in its turn was based on a modified form of 
the Heracleitean theory of a perpetual flux. The series of 
external changes which constitutes Nature, acting on the 
series of internal changes which constitutes each man's 
personality, produces particular sensations, and these alone 
are the true reality. They vary with every variation in the 

' Diog. L., IX,, viii., 54. - Diog. L., IX., viii., 51. 


factors, and therefore are not the same for separate individuals. 
Each man's perceptions are true for himself, but for himself 
alone. Plato easily shows that such a theory of truth is at 
variance with ordinary opinion, and that if all opinions are 
true, it must necessarily stand self- condemned. We may also 
observe that if nothing can be known but sensation, nothing 
can be known of its conditions. It would, however, be unfair 
to convict Protagoras of talking nonsense on the unsupported 
authority of the Theaetetiis. Plato himself suggests that a 
better case might have been made out for the incriminated 
doctrine could its author have been heard in self-defence. 
We may conjecture that Protagoras did not distinguish very 
accurately between existence, knowledge, and applicability to 
practice. If we assume, what there seems good reason to 
believe, that in the great controversy of Nature versus Law, 
Protagoras sided with the latter, his position will at once 
become clear. When the champions of Nature credited her 
with a stability and an authority greater than could be claimed 
for merely human arrangements, it was a judicious step to 
carry the war into their territory, and ask, on what foundation 
then does Nature herself stand t Is not she, too, perpetually 
changing, and do we not become acquainted with her entirely 
through our own feelings } Ought not those feelings to be 
taken as the ultimate standard in all questions of right and 
wrong ? Individual opinion is a fact which must be reckoned 
with, but which can be changed by persuasion, not by appeals 
to something that we none of us know anything about. Man 
is the measure of all things, not the will of gods whose very 
existence is uncertain, nor yet a purely hypothetical state of 
Nature. Human interests must take precedence of every 
other consideration. Hector meant nothing else when he 
preferred the obvious dictates of patriotism to inferences 
drawn from the flight of birds. 

We now understand why Protagoras, in the Platonic 
dialogue bearing his name, should glance scornfully at the 


method of instruction pursued by Hippias, with his lectures 
on astronomy, and why he prefers to discuss obscure passages 
in the poets. The quarrel between a classical and a scientific 
education was just then beginning, and Protagoras, as a 
Humanist, sided with the classics. Again, he does not think 
much of the ' great and sane and noble race of brutes.' He 
would not, like the Cynics, take them as examples of conduct. 
Man, he says, is naturally worse provided for than any 
animal ; even the divine gift of wisdom would not save him 
from extinction without the priceless social virtues of justice 
and reverence, that is, the regard for public opinion which 
Mr. Darwin, too, has represented as the strongest moralising 
power in primitive society. And, as the possession of these 
qualities constituted the fundamental distinction between men 
and brutes, so also did the advantage of civilisation over 
barbarism rest on their superior development, a development 
due to the ethical instruction received by every citizen from 
his earliest infancy, reinforced through after-life by the sterner 
correction of legal punishments, and completed by the elimina- 
tion of all individuals demonstrably unfitted for the social 
state. Protagoras had no sympathy with those who affect 
to prefer the simplicity of savages to the fancied corruption 
of civilisation. Hear how he answers the Rousseaus and 
Diderots of his time : — 

' I would have you consider that he who appears to you to be the 
worst of those who have been brought up in laws and humanities 
would appear to be a just man and a master of justice if he were to 
be compared with men who had no education, or courts of justice, or 
laws, or any restraints upon them which compelled them to practise 
virtue — with the savages, for example, whom the poet Pherecrates 
exhibited on the stage at the last year's Lenaean festival. If you 
were living among men such as the man-haters in his chorus, you 
would be only too glad to meet with Eurybates and Phrynondas, and 
you would sorrowfully long to revisit the rascality of this part of the 
world.' ' 

' Plato, Protagoras, 327; Jowett's Transl., vol. I., p. 140, On the superior 


We find the same theory reproduced and enforced with 
weighty illustrations by the great historian of that age. It is 
not known whether Thucydides owed any part of his culture 
to Protagoras, but the introduction to his history breathes the 
same spirit as the observations which we have just transcribed. 
He, too, characterises antiquity as a scene of barbarism, 
isolation, and lawless violence, particularly remarking that 
piracy was not then counted a dishonourable profession. He 
points to the tribes outside Greece, together with the most 
backward among the Greeks themselves, as representing the 
low condition from which Athens and her sister states had 
only emerged within a comparatively recent period. And in 
the funeral oration which he puts into the mouth of Pericles, 
the legendary glories of Athens are passed over without the 
slighest allusion,* while exclusive prominence is given to her 
proud position as the intellectual centre of Greece. Evidently 
a radical change had taken place in men's conceptions since 
Herodotus wrote. They were learning to despise the 
mythical glories of their ancestors, to exalt the present at the 
expense of the past, to fix their attention exclusively on 
immediate human interests, and, possibly, to anticipate the 
coming of a loftier civilisation than had as yet been seen. 

The evolution of Greek tragic poetry bears witness to the 
same transformation of taste. On comparing Sophocles with 
Aeschylus, we are struck by a change of tone analogous to 
that which distinguishes Thucydides from Herodotus. It has 
been shown in our first chapter how the elder dramatist 
delights in tracing events and institutions back to their first 
origin, and in following derivations through the steps of a 
genealogical sequence. Sophocles, on the other hand, limits 
himself to a close analysis of the action immediately 
represented, the motives by which his characters are in- 

morality which accompanies advancing civilisation, as evinced by the great in- 
crease of mutual trust, see Maine's Ancient Lmv, pp. 306-7. 
' This point is noticed by Zeller, Ph. d. Gr., II., 22. 


fluenced, and the arguments by which their conduct is 
justified or condemned. We have already touched on the 
very different attitude assumed towards rehgion by these two 
great poets. Here we have only to add that while Aeschylus 
fills his dramas with supernatural beings, and frequently 
restricts his mortal actors to the interpretation or execution 
of a divine mandate, Sophocles, representing the spirit of 
Greek Humanism, only once brings a god on the stage, and 
dwells exclusively on the emotions of pride, ambition, revenge, 
terror, pity, and affection, by which men and women of a lofty 
type are actuated. Again (and this is one of his poetic 
superiorities), Aeschylus has an open sense for the external 
world ; his imagination ranges far and wide from land to 
land ; his pages are filled with the fire and light, the music 
and movement of Nature in a Southern country. He leads 
before us in splendid procession the starry-kirtled night ; the 
bright rulers that bring round winter and summer ; the 
dazzling sunshine ; the forked flashes of lightning ; the 
roaring thunder ; the white- winged snow-flakes ; the rain 
descending on thirsty flowers ; the sea now rippling with 
infinite laughter, now moaning on the shingle, growing hoary 
under rough blasts, with its eastern waves dashing against the 
new-risen sun, or, again, lulled to waveless, windless, noonday 
sleep ; the volcano with its volleys of fire-breathing spray 
and fierce jaws of devouring lava ; the eddying whorls of 
dust ; the resistless mountain-torrent ; the meadow-dews ; 
the flowers of spring and fruits of summer ; the evergreen 
olive, and trees that give leafy shelter from dogstar heat. 
For all this world of wonder and beauty Sophocles offers only 
a few meagre allusions to the phenomena presented by 
sunshine and storm. No poet has ever so entirely concen- 
trated his attention on human deeds and human passions. 
Only the grove of Colonus, interwoven with his own earliest 
recollections, had power to draw from him, in extreme old age, 
a song such as the nightingale might have warbled amid those 


inviolable recesses where the ivy and laurel, the vine and 
olive gave a never-failing shelter against sun and wind alike. 
Yet even this leafy covert is but an image of the poet's own 
imagination, undisturbed by outward influences, self-involved, 
self-protected, and self-sustained. Of course, we are only re- 
stating in different language what has long been known, that 
the epic element of poetry, before so prominent, was with 
Sophocles entirely displaced by the dramatic ; but if Sopho- 
cles became the greatest dramatist of antiquity, it was 
precisely because no other writer could, like him, work out a 
catastrophe solely through the action of mind on mind, 
without any intervention of physical force ; and if he 
possessed this faculty, it was because Greek thought as a 
whole had been turned inward ; because he shared in the de- 
votion to psychological studies equally exemplified by his 
younger contemporaries, Protagoras, Thucydides, and So- 
crates, all of whom might have taken for their motto the 
noble lines — 

' On earth there is nothing great but man, 
In man there is nothing great but mind.' 

We have said that Protagoras was a partisan of Nomos, 
or convention, against Nature. That was the conservative 
side of his character. Still, Nomos was not with him what it 
had been with the older Greeks, an immutable tradition 
indistinguishable from physical law. It was a human 
creation, and represented the outcome of inherited experience, 
admitting always of change for the better. Hence the vast 
importance which he attributed to education. This, no doubt, 
was magnifying his own office, for the training of youth was 
his profession. But, unquestionably, the feelings of his more 
liberal contemporaries went with him. A generation before, 
Pindar had spoken scornfully of intellectual culture as a vain 
attempt to make up for the absence of genius which the gods 
alone could give. Yet Pindar himself was always careful to 
dwell on the services rendered by professional trainers to the 


victorious athletes whose praises he sang, and there was really 
no reason why genius and culture should be permanently 
dissociated. A Themistocles might decide offhand on the 
questions brought before him ; a Pericles, dealing with much 
more complex interests, already needed a more careful 

On the other hand, conservatives like Aristophanes con- 
tinued to oppose the spread of education with acrimonious 
zeal. Some of their arguments have a curiously familiar 
ring. Intellectual pursuits, they said, were bad for the health, 
led to irreligion and immorality, made young people quite 
unlike their grandfathers, and were somehow or other con- 
nected with loose company and a fast life. This last insinua- 
tion was in one respect the very reverse of true. So far as 
personal morality went, nothing could be better for it than 
the change introduced by Protagoras from amateur to paid 
teaching. Before this time, a Greek youth who wished for 
something better than the very elementary instruction given 
at school, could only attach himself to some older and wiser 
friend, whose conversation might be very improving, but who 
was pretty sure to introduce a sentimental element into their 
relationship equally discreditable to both.' A similar danger 
has always existed with regard to highly intelligent women, 
although it may have threatened a smaller number of indivi- 
duals ; and the efforts now being made to provide them with 
a systematic education under official superintendence will 
incidentally have the effect of saving our future Heloises 
and Julies from the tuition of an Abclard or a Saint- 

It was their habit of teaching rhetoric as an art which raised 
the fiercest storm of indignation against Protagoras and 
his colleagues. The endeavour to discover rules for address- 
ing a tribunal or a popular assembly in the manner best cal- 

' This phase of Greek life is well illustrated by the addresses of Theognis 
to Cyrnus. 


culated to win their assent had originated quite independently 
of any philosophical theory. On the re-establishment of 
order, that is to say of popular government, in Sicily, many 
lawsuits arose out of events which had happened years before ; 
and, owing to the lapse of time, demonstrative evidence was 
not available. Accordingly, recourse was had on both sides 
to arguments possessing a greater or less degree of proba- 
bility. The art of putting such probable inferences so as to 
produce persuasion demanded great technical skill ; and two 
Sicilians, Corax and Tisias by name, composed treatises on 
the subject. It would appear that the new-born art was 
taken up by Protagoras and developed in the direction of 
increased dialectical subtlety. We are informed that he 
undertook to make the worse appear the better reason ; and 
this very soon came to be popularly considered as an accom- 
plishment taught by all philosophers, Socrates among the 
rest. But if Protagoras merely meant that he would teach 
the art of reasoning, one hardly sees how he could have ex- 
pressed himself otherwise, consistently with the antithetical 
style of his age. We should say more simply that a case is 
strengthened by the ability to argue it properly. It has not 
been shown that the Protagorean dialectic offered exceptional 
facilities for maintaining unjust pretensions. Taken, however, 
in connexion with the humanistic teaching, it had an unsettling 
and sceptical tendency. All belief and all practice rested on 
law, and law was the result of a convention made among 
men and ultimately produced by individual conviction. 
What one man had done another could undo. Religious 
tradition and natural right, the sole external standards, had 
already disappeared. There remained the test of self-consist- 
ency, and against this all the subtlety of the new dialectic 
was turned. The triumph of Eristic was to show that a 
speaker had contradicted himself, no matter how his state- 
ments might be worded. Moreover, now that reference to an 
objective reality was disallowed, words were put in the place 


of things and treated like concrete realities. The next step 
was to tear them out of the grammatical construction, where 
alone they possessed any truth or meaning, each being simul- 
taneously credited with all the uses which at any time it 
might be made to fulfil. For example, if a man knew one 
thing he knew all, for he had knowledge, and knowledge is of 
everything knowable. Much that seems to us tedious or 
superfluous in Aristotle's expositions was intended as a safe- 
guard against this endless cavilling. Finally, negation itself 
was eliminated along with the possibility of falsehood and 
contradiction. For it was argued that ' nothing ' had no 
existence and could not be an object of thought.' 


From utter confusion to extreme nihilism there was but 
a single step. This step was taken by Gorgias, the Sicilian 
rhetorician, who held the same relation towards western 
Hellas and the Eleatic school as that which Protagoras held 
towards eastern Hellas and the philosophy of Heracleitus. 
He, like his eminent contemporary, was opposed to the 
thinkers whom, borrowing a useful term from the nomencla- 
ture of the last century, we may call the Greek physiocrats. 
To confute them, he wrote a book with the significant title. 
On Nature or Nothing : maintaining, first, that nothing 
exists ; secondly, that if anything exists, we cannot know it ; 
thirdly, that if we know it, there is no possibility of communi- 
cating our knowledge to others. The first thesis was estab- 
lished by pushing the Eleatic arguments against movement 
and change a little further ; the second by showing that 
thought and existence are different, or else everything that is 
thought of would exist ; the third by establishing a similar 
incommensurability between words and sensations, Grote 

> Eristicism had also points of contact with the philosophies of Parmenides 
and Socrates which will be indicated in a future chapter. 


has attempted to show that Gorgias was only arguing against 
the existence of a noumenon underlying phenomena, such as 
all idealists deny. Zeller has, however, convincingly proved 
that Gorgias, in common with every other thinker before 
Plato, was ignorant of this distinction ; ' and we may add 
that it would leave the second and third theses absolutely 
unimpaired. We must take the whole together as consti- 
tuting a declaration of war against science, an assertion, in 
still stronger language, of the agnosticism taught by Prota- 
goras. The truth is, that a Greek controversialist generally 
overproved his case, and in order to overwhelm an adversary 
pulled down the whole house, even at the risk of being 
buried among the ruins himself. A modern reasoner, taking 
his cue from Gorgias, without pushing the matter to such an 
extreme, might carry on his attack on lines running parallel 
with those laid down by the Sicilian Sophist. He would 
begin by denying the existence of a ' state of Nature ' ; for 
such a state must be either variable or constant. If it is 
constant, how could civilisation ever have arisen .-* If it is 
variable, what becomes of the fixed standard appealed to } 
Then, again, supposing such a state ever to have existed, 
how could authentic information about it have come down 
to us through the ages of corruption which are supposed to 
have intervened } And, lastly, granting that a state of Nature 
accessible to enquiry has ever existed, how can we reorganise 
society on the basis of such discordant data as are presented 
to us by the physiocrats, no two of whom agree with regard 
to the first principles of natural order ; one saying that it is 
equality, another aristocracy, and a third despotism .'' We do 
not say that these arguments are conclusive, we only mean 
that in relation to modern thought they very fairly represent 
the dialectic artillery brought to bear by Greek humanism 
against its naturalistic opponents. 

We have seen how Prodicus and Hippias professed to 

' Ph. d. Gr., I., 903 (3rd ed.). 


teach all science, all literature, and all virtuous accomplish- 
ments. We have seen how Protagoras rejected every kind of 
knowledge unconnected with social culture. We now find 
Gorgias going a step further. In his later years, at least, he 
professes to teach nothing but rhetoric or the art of persua- 
sion. We say in his later years, for at one time he seems to 
have taught ethics and psychology as well.' But the Gorgias 
of Plato's famous dialogue limits himself to the power of pro- 
ducing persuasion by words on all possible subjects, even 
those of whose details he is ignorant. Wherever the rhetori- 
cian comes into competition with the professional he will beat 
him on his own ground, and will be preferred to him for every 
pubhc office. The type is by no means extinct, and flourishes 
like a green bay-tree among ourselves. Like Pendennis, a 
writer of this kind will review any book from the height of 
superior knowledge acquired by two hours' reading in the 
British Museum ; or, if he is adroit enough, will dispense with 
even that slender amount of preparation. He need not even 
trouble himself to read the book which he criticises. A 
superficial acquaintance with magazine articles will qualify 
him to pass judgment on all life, all religion, and all philoso- 
phy. But it is in politics that the finest career lies before 
him. He rises to power by attacking the measures of real 
statesmen, and remains there by adopting them. He becomes 
Chancellor of the Exchequer by gross economical blundering, 
and Prime Minister by a happy mixture of epigram and 

Rhetoric conferred even greater power in old Athens than 
in modern England. Not only did mastery of expression 
lead to public employment ; but also, as every citizen was 
permitted by law to address his assembled fellow-countrymen 
and propose measures for their acceptance, it became a direct 
passport to supreme political authority. Nor was this all. 
At Athens the employment of professional advocates was not 

' See Plato's Meno, sub. in. 


allowed, and it was easy to prosecute an enemy on the most 
frivolous pretexts. If the defendant happened to be wealthy, 
and if condemnation involved a loss of property, there was a 
prejudice against him in the minds of the jury, confiscation 
being regarded as a convenient resource for repleni hing the 
national exchequer. Thus the possession of rhetorical ability 
became a formidable weapon in the hands of unscrupulous 
citizens, who were enabled to extort large sums by the mere 
threat of putting rich men on their trial for some real or 
pretended offence. This systematic employment of rhetoric 
for purposes of self-aggrandisement bore much the same rela- 
tion to the teaching of Protagoras and Gorgias as the open 
and violent seizure of supreme power on the plea of natural 
superiority bore to the theories of their rivals, being the way 
in which practical men applied the principle that truth is de- 
termined by persuasion. It was also attended by considerably 
less danger than a frank appeal to the right of the stronger, 
so far at least as the aristocratic party were concerned. For 
they had been taught a lesson not easily forgotten by the 
downfall of the oligarchies established in 411 and 404 ; and 
the second catastrophe especially proved that nothing but a 
popular government was possible in Athens. Accordingly, 
the nobles set themselves to study new methods for obtaining 
their ultimate end, which was always the possession of uncon- 
trolled power over the lives and fortunes of their fellow- 
citizens. With wealth to purchase instruction from the 
Sophists, with leisure to practise oratory, and with the 
ability often accompanying high birth, there was no reason 
why the successors of Charmides and Critias should not 
enjoy all the pleasures of tyranny unaccompanied by any of 
its drawbacks. Here, again, a parallel suggests itself 
between ancient Greece and modern Europe. On the 
Continent, where theories of natural law are far more 
prevalent than with us, it is by brute force that justice is 
trami)led down ; the one great object of every ambitious 


intriguer is to possess himself of the military machine, his 
one great terror, that a stronger man may succeed in 
wresting it from him ; in England the political adventurer 
looks to rhetoric as his only resource, and at the pinnacle of 
power has to dread the hailstorm of epigrammatic invective 
directed against him by abler or younger rivals.' 

Besides its influence on the formation and direction of 
political eloquence, the doctrine professed by Protagoras had 
a far-reaching effect on the subsequent development of 
thought. Just as Cynicism was evolved from the theory of 
Hippias, so also did the teaching which denied Nature and 
concentrated all study on subjective phenomena, with a 
tendency towards individualistic isolation, lead on to the 
system of Aristippus. The founder of the Cyrenaic school is 
called a Sophist by Aristotle, nor can the justice of the 
appellation be doubted. He was, it is true, a friend and 
companion of Socrates, but intellectually he is more nearly 
related to Protagoras. Aristippus rejected physical studies, 
reduced all knowledge to the consciousness of our own 
sensations, and made immediate gratification the end of life. 
Protagoras would have objected to the last principle, but it 
was only an extension of his own views, for all history proves 
that Hedonism is constantly associated with sensationalism. 
The theory that knowledge is built up out of feelings has an 
elective affinity for the theory that action is, or ought to be, 
determined in the last resort by the most prominent feelings, 
which are pleasure and pain. Both theories have since been 
strengthened by the introduction of a new and more ideal 
element into each. We have come to see that knowledge is 
constituted not by sensations alone, but by sensations grouped 
according to certain laws which seem to be inseparable from 
the existence of any consciousness whatever. And, similarly, 

' Lord Beaconsfield recently [written in February 1880] spoke of the Balkans 
as forming an ' intelligible' frontier for Turkey. Continental telegrams substi- 
tuted ' natural frontier.' The change was characteristic and significant. 


we have learned to take into account, not merely the 
momentary enjoyments of an individual, but his whole life's 
happiness as well, and not his happiness only, but also that 
of the whole community to which he belongs. Nevertheless, 
in both cases it is rightly held that the element of feeling 
preponderates, and the doctrines of such thinkers as J. S. Mill 
are legitimately traceable through Epicurus and Aristippus to 
Protagoras as their first originator. 

Notwithstanding the importance of this impulse, it does 
not represent the whole effect produced by Protagoras on 
philosophy. His eristic method was taken up by the 
Megaric school, and at first combined with other elements 
borrowed from Parmenides and Socrates, but ultimately 
extricated from them and used as a critical solvent of all 
dogmatism by the later Sceptics. From their writings, after 
a long interval of enforced silence, it passed over to 
Montaigne, Bayle, Hume, and Kant, with what redoubtable 
consequences to received opinions need not here be specified. 
Our object is simply to illustrate the continuity of thought, 
and the powerful influence exercised by ancient Greece on its 
subsequent development. 

Every variety of opinion current among the Sophists 
reduces itself, in the last analysis, to their fundamental 
antithesis between Nature and Law, the latter being some- 
what ambiguously conceived by its supporters as either 
human reason or human will, or more generally as both 
together, combining to assert their self-dependence and 
emancipation from external authority. This antithesis was 
prefigured in the distinction between Chthonian and Olympian 
divinities. Continuing afterwards to inspire the rivalry of 
opposing schools. Cynic against Cyrenaic, Stoic against 
Epicurean, Sceptic against Dogmatist, it was but partially 
overcome by the mediatorial schemes of Socrates and 
his successors. Then came Catholicism, equally adverse 
to the pretensions of either party, and held them down 


under its suffocating pressure for more than a thousand 

' Natur und Geist, so spricht man nicht zu Christen, 
Darum verbrennt man Atheisten ; 
Natur ist Siinde, Geist ist Teufel.' 

Both slowly struggled back into consciousness in the fitful 
dreams of mediaeval sleep. Nature was represented by 
astrology with its fatalistic predetermination of events ; 
idealism by the alchemical lore w^hich was to give its 
possessor eternal youth and inexhaustible wealth. With the 
complete revival of classic literature and the temporary 
neutralisation of theology by internal discord, both sprang up 
again in glorious life, and produced the great art of the 
sixteenth century, the great science and philosophy of the 
seventeenth. Later on, becoming self-conscious, they divide, 
and their partisans draw off into two opposing armies, 
Rousseau against Voltaire, Herder against Kant, Goethe 
against Schiller, Hume against himself. Together they 
bring about the Revolution ; but after marching hand in hand 
to the destruction of all existing institutions they again part 
company, and, putting on the frippery of a dead faith, 
confront one another, each with its own ritual, its own 
acolytes, its own intolerance, with feasts of Nature and 
goddesses of Reason, in mutual and murderous hostility. 
When the storm subsided, new lines of demarcation were 
laid down, and the cause of political liberty was dissociated 
from what seemed to be thoroughly discredited figments. 
Nevertheless, imaginative literature still preserves traces of 
the old conflict, and on examining the four greatest English 
novelists of the last fifty years we shall find that Dickens 
and Charlotte Bronte, though personally most unlike, agree 
in representing the arbitrary, subjective, ideal side of life, the 
subjugation of things to self, not of self to things ; he trans- 
figuring them in the light of humour, fancy, sentiment ; she 
transforming them by the alchemy of inward passion ; while 


Thackeray and George Eliot represent the triumph of 
natural forces over rebellious individualities ; the one writer 
depicting an often crude reality at odds with convention and 
conceit ; while the other, possessing, if not an intrinsically 
greater genius, at least a higher philosophical culture, dis- 
closes to us the primordial necessities of existence, the 
pitiless conformations of circumstance, before which egoism, 
ignorance, illusion, and indecision must bow, or be crushed 
to pieces if they resist. 


Our readers have now before them everything of import- 
ance that is known about the Sophists, and something more 
that is not known for certain, but may, we think, be reason- 
ably conjectured. Taking the whole class together, they repre- 
sent a combination of three distinct tendencies, the endeavour 
to supply an encyclopaedic training for youth, the cultivation 
of political rhetoric as a special art, and the search after a 
scientific foundation for ethics derived from the results of 
previous philosophy. With regard to the last point, they 
agree in drawing a fundamental distinction between Nature 
and Law, but some take one and some the other for their 
guide. The partisans of Nature lean to the side of a more 
comprehensive education, while their opponents tend more 
and more to lay an exclusive stress on oratorical proficiency. 
Both schools are at last infected by the moral corruption of 
the day, natural right becoming identified with the interest of 
the stronger, and humanism leading to the denial of objective 
reality, the substitution of illusion for knowledge, and the 
confusion of momentary gratification with moral good. The 
dialectical habit of considering every question under contra- 
dictory aspects degenerates into eristic prize-fighting and de- 
liberate disregard of the conditions which alone make argu- 
ment possible. Finally, the component elements of Sophisti- 


cism are dissociated from one another, and are either sepa- 
rately developed or pass over into new combinations. Rhetoric, 
apart from speculation, absorbs the whole time and talent of 
an Isocrates ; general culture is imparted by a professorial 
class without originality, but without reproach ; naturalism 
and sensuous idealism are worked up into systematic com- 
pletion for the sake of their philosophical interest alone ; and 
the name of sophistry is unhappily fastened by Aristotle on 
paid exhibitions of verbal wrangling which the great Sophists 
would have regarded with indignation and disgust. 

It remains for us to glance at the controversy which has 
long been carried on respecting the true position of the 
Sophists in Greek life and thought. We have already alluded 
to the by no means favourable judgment passed on them by 
some among their contemporaries. Socrates condemned 
them severely, but only because they received payment for 
their lessons ; and the sentiment was probably echoed by 
many who had neither his disinterestedness nor his frugality. 
To make profit by intellectual work was not unusual in 
Greece. Pheidias sold his statues ; Pindar spent his life 
writing for money ; Simonides and Sophocles were charged 
with showing too great eagerness in the pursuit of gain.' 
But a man's conversation with his friends had always been 
gratuitous, and the novel idea of charging a high fee for it 
excited considerable offence. Socrates called it prostitution 
— the sale of that which should be the free gift of love — 
without perhaps sufficiently considering that the same privi- 
lege had formerly been purchased with a more dishonourable 
price. He also considered that a freeman was degraded by 
placing himself at the beck and call of another, although it 
would appear that the Sophists chose their own time for 
lecturing, and were certainly not more slaves than a sculptor 
or poet who had received an order to execute. It was also 
argued that any one who really succeeded in improving the 

' Aribtopli., Pas, 697. 


community benefited so much by the result that it was unfair 
on his part to demand any additional remuneration. Suppose 
a popular preacher were to come over from New York to 
England, star about among the principal cities, charging a 
high price for admission to his sermons, and finally return 
home in possession of a handsome fortune, we can well 
liTiagine that sarcasms at the expense of such profitable piety 
would not be wanting. This hypothetical case will help us 
to understand how many an honest Athenian must have felt 
towards the showy colonial strangers who were making such 
a lucrative business of teaching moderation and justice. 
Plato, speaking for his master but not from his master's 
standpoint, raised an entirely difterent objection. He saw no 
reason why the Sophists should not sell their wisdom if they 
had any wisdom to sell. But this was precisely what he 
denied. He submitted their pretensions to a searching cross- 
examination, and, as he considered, convicted them of being 
worthless pretenders. There was a certain unfairness about 
this method, for neither his own positive teaching nor that of 
Socrates could have stood before a similar test, as Aristotle 
speedily demonstrated in the next generation. He was, in 
fact, only doing for Protagoras and Gorgias what they had 
done for early Greek speculation, and what every school 
habitually does for its predecessors. It had yet to be learned 
that this dissolving dialectic constitutes the very law of 
philosophical progress. The discovery was made by Hegel, 
and it is to him that the Sophists owe their rehabilitation in 
modern times. His lectures on the History of Philosophy 
contain much that was afterwards urged by Grote on the 
same side. Five years before the appearance of Grote's 
famous sixty-seventh chapter, Lewes had also published a 
vindication of the Sophists, possibly suggested by Hegel's 
work, which he had certainly consulted when preparing his 
own History. There is, however, this great difference, that 
while the two English critics endeavour to minimise the 


sceptical, innovating tendency of the Sophists, it is, contrari- 
wise, brought into exaggerated prominence by the German 
philosopher. We have just remarked that the final dissolu- 
tion of Sophisticism was brought about by the separate 
development given to each of the various tendencies which it 
temporarily combined. Now, each of our three apologists 
has taken up one of these tendencies, and treated it as consti- 
tuting the whole movement under discussion. To Hegel, the 
Sophists are chiefly subjective idealists. To Lewes, they are 
rhetoricians like Isocrates. To Grote, they are, what in truth 
the Sophists of the Roman empire were, teachers representing 
the standard opinions of their age. Lewes and Grote are 
both particularly anxious to prove that the original Sophists 
did not corrupt Greek morality. Thus much has been con- 
ceded by contemporary German criticism, and is no more 
than was observed by Plato long ago. Grote further asserts 
that the implied corruption of morality is an illusion, and 
that at the end of the Peloponnesian war the Athenians were 
no worse than their forefathers who fought at Marathon. His 
opinion is shared by so accomplished a scholar as Prof. 
Jowett ; ' but here he has the combined authority of Thucy- 
dides, Aristophanes, and Plato against him. We have, how- 
ever, examined this question already, and need not return to 
it. Whether any of the Sophists themselves can be proved 
to have taught immoral doctrines is another moot point. 
Grote defends them all, Polus and Thrasymachus included. 
Here, also, we have expressed our dissent from the eminent 
historian, whom we can only suppose to have missed the 
whole point of Plato's argument. Lewes takes different 

• ' As Mr. Grote remarks, there is no reason to suspect any greater moral cor- 
ruption in the age of Demosthenes than in the age of Pericles.' {The Dialogues of 
Plato, vol. IV., p. 380.) We do not remember that Grote commits himself to such 
a sweeping statement, nor was it necessary for his purpose to do so. No one 
would have been more surprised than Demosthenes himself to hear that the Athe- 
nians of his generation equalled the contemporaries of Pericles in public virtue. 
(Cf. Grote's y/fl/c, II., 148.) 


ground when he accuses Plato of misrepresenting his oppo- 
nents. It is true that the Sophists cannot be heard in self- 
defence, but there is no internal improbability about the 
charges brought against them. The Greek rhetoricians are 
not accused of saying anything that has not been said again 
and again by their modern representatives. Whether the 
odium of such sentiments should attach itself to the whole 
class of Sophists is quite another question. Grote denies that 
they held any doctrine in common. The German critics, on 
the other hand, insist on treating them as a school with 
common principles and tendencies. Brandis calls them ' a 
number of men, gifted indeed, but not seekers after knowledge 
for its own sake, who made a trade of giving instruction as a 
means for the attainment of external and selfish ends, and of 
substituting mere technical proficiency for real science,' ' If 
our account be the true one, this would apply to Gorgias and 
the younger rhetoricians alone. One does not precisely see 
what external or selfish ends were subserved by the physical 
philosophy which Prodicus and Hippias taught, nor why the 
comprehensive enquiries of Protagoras into the conditions of 
civilisation and the limits of human knowledge should be 
contemptuously flung aside because he made them the basis 
of an honourable profession. Zeller, in much the same strain, 
defines a Sophist as one who professes to be a teacher of 
wisdom, while his object is individual culture (die formelle und 
praktische Bildung des Subjekts) and not the scientific inves- 
tigation of truth.'-^ We do not know whether Grote was 
content with an explanation which would only have required 
an unimportant modification of his own statements to agree 
precisely with them. It ought amply to have satisfied Lewes. 
For ourselves, we must confess to caring very little whether 
the Sophists investigated truth for its own sake or as a means 
to self-culture. We believe, and in the next chapter we hope 

' GcschicJitc dcr Enlxokkcliing dcr Cricchischen Philosophic, I., p. 204. 
2 Philosophic d. Gr., I., p. 943 (3rd cd.). 


to show, that Socrates, at any rate, did not treat knowledge 
apart from practice as an end in itself. But the history of 
philosophy is not concerned with such subtleties as these. 
Our contention is that the Stoic, Epicurean, and Sceptical 
schools may be traced back through Antisthenes and Aris- 
tippus to Hippias and Protagoras much more directly than 
to Socrates. If Zeller will grant this, then he can no longer 
treat Sophisticism as a mere solvent of the old physical philo- 
sophy. If he denies it, we can only appeal to his own history, 
which here, as well as in our discussions of early Greek 
thought, we have found more useful than any other work on 
the subject. Our obligations to Grote are of a more general 
character. We have learned from him to look at the Sophists 
without prejudice. But we think that he, too, underrates 
their far-reaching intellectual significance, while his defence 
of their moral orthodoxy seems, so far as certain members of 
the class are concerned, inconsistent with any belief in Plato's 
historical fidelity. That the most eminent Sophists did 
nothing to corrupt Greek morality is now almost universally 
admitted. If we have succeeded in showing that they did 
not corrupt but fruitfully develop Greek philosophy, the 
purpose of this study will have been sufficiently fulfilled. 

The title of this chapter may have seemed to promise more 
than a casual mention of the thinker in whom Greek Human- 
ism attained its loftiest and purest expression. But in 
history, no less than in life, Socrates must ever stand apart 
from the Sophists. Beyond and above all specialities of 
teaching, the transcendent dignity of a character which 
personified philosophy itself demands a separate treatment. 
Readers who have followed us thus far may feel interested in 
an attempt to throw some new light on one who was a riddle 
to his contemporaries, and has remained a riddle to after-ages. 




Apart from legendary reputations, there is no name in the 
world's history more famous than that of Socrates, and in the 
history of philosophy there is none so famous. The only 
thinker that approaches him in celebrity is his own disciple 
Plato. Every one who has heard of Greece or Athens has 
heard of him. Every one who has heard of him knows that 
he was supremely good and great. Each successive genera- 
tion has confirmed the reputed Delphic oracle that no man 
was wiser than Socrates. He, with one or two others, alone 
came near to realising the ideal of a Stoic sage. Christians 
deem it no irreverence to compare him with the Founder of 
their religion. If a few dissentient voices have broken the 
general unanimity, they have, whether consciously or not, been 
inspired by the Socratic principle that we should let no 
opinion pass unquestioned and unproved. Furthermore, it so 
happens that this wonderful figure is known even to the mul- 
titude by sight as well as by name. Busts, cameos, and 
engravings have made all familiar with the Silenus-like phy- 
siognomy, the thick lips, upturned nose, and prominent eyes 
which impressed themselves so strangely on the imagination 
of a race who are accused of having cared for nothing but 
physical beauty, because they rightly regarded it as the natural 
accompaniment of moral loveliness. Those who wish to dis- 
cover what manner of mind lay hid beneath this uninviting 


exterior may easily satisfy their curiosity, for Socrates is per- 
sonally better known than any other character of antiquity. 
Dr. Johnson himself is not a more familiar figure to the 
student of literature. Alone among classical worthies his 
table-talk has been preserved for us, and the art of memoir- 
writing seems to have been expressly created for his behoof.' 
We can follow him into all sorts of company and test his 
behaviour in every variety of circumstances. He conversed 
with all classes and on all subjects of human interest, with 
artisans, artists, generals, statesmen, professors, and professional 
beauties. We meet him in the armourer's workshop, in the 
sculptor's studio, in the boudoirs of the demi-monde, in the 
banqueting-halls of flower-crowned and wine-flushed Athenian 
youth, combining the self-mastery of an Antisthenes with the 
plastic grace of an Aristippus ; or, in graver moments, cheer- 
ing his comrades during the disastrous retreat from Delium ; 
upholding the sanctity of law, as President of the Assembly, 
against a delirious populace ; confronting with invincible 
irony the oligarchic terrorists who held life and death in their 
hands ; pleading not for himself, but for reason and justice, 
before a stupid and bigoted tribunal ; and, in the last sad 
scene of all, exchanging Attic courtesies with the unwilling 
instrument of his death.^ 

Such a character would, in any case, be remarkable ; it 
becomes of extraordinary, or rather of unique, interest when 
we consider that Socrates could be and do so much, not in 
spite of being a philosopher, but because he was a philosopher, 
the chief though not the sole originator of a vast intellectual 
revolution ; one who, as a teacher, constituted the supremacy 

' The invention of memoir-writing is claimed by Prof. Mahaffy {Hist. Gr, 
Lit., II., 42) for Ion of Chios and his contemporary Stesimbrotus. But — apart 
from their questionable authenticity — the sketches attributed to these two writers 
do not seem to have aimed at presenting a complete picture of a single in- 
dividual, which is what was attempted with considerable success in Xenophon's 

'^ Cf. Havet, Le ChristianisDie ct ses Origiues, I., 167. 


of reason, and as an individual made reason his sole guide in 
life. He at once discovered new principles, popularised them 
for the benefit of others, and exemplified them in his own 
conduct ; but he did not accomplish these results separately ; 
they were only different aspects of the same systematising 
process which is identical with philosophy itself Yet the 
very success of Socrates in harmonising life and thought 
makes it the more difficult for us to construct a complete pic- 
ture of his personality. Different observers have selected 
from the complex combination that which best suited their own 
mental predisposition, pushing out of sight the other elements 
which, with him, served to correct and complete it. The very 
popularity that has attached itself to his name is a proof of 
this ; for the multitude can seldom appreciate more than one 
excellence at a time, nor is that usually of the highest order. 
Hegel complains that Socrates has been made the patron- 
saint of moral twaddle.' We are fifty years further removed 
than Hegel from the golden age of platitude ; the twaddle of 
our own time is half cynical, half aesthetic, and wholly un- 
moral ; yet there are no signs of diminution in the popular 
favour with which Socrates has always been regarded. The 
man of the world, the wit, the vive?ir, the enthusiastic admirer 
of youthful beauty, the scornful critic of democracy is welcome 
to many who have no taste for ethical discourses and fine- 
spun arguments. 

Nor is it only the personality of Socrates that has been so 
variously conceived ; his philosophy, so far as it can be sepa- 
rated from his life, has equally given occasion to conflicting 
interpretations, and it has even been denied that he had, pro- 
perly speaking, any philosophy at all. These divergent pre- 
sentations of his teaching, if teaching it can be called, begin 
with the two disciples to whom our knowledge of it is almost 
entirely due. There is, curiously enough, much the same 
inner discrepancy between Xenophon's Memorabilia and those 

> Grsch. d. Phil., II., 47. 


Platonic dialogues where Socrates is the principal spokesman, 
as that which distinguishes the Synoptic from the Johannine 
Gospels. The one gives us a report certainly authentic, but 
probably incomplete ; the other account is, beyond all doubt, 
a highly idealised portraiture, but seems to contain some 
traits directly copied from the original, which may well have 
escaped a less philosophical observer than Plato. Aristotle 
also furnishes us with some scanty notices which are of use 
in deciding between the two rival versions, although we 
cannot be sure that he had access to any better sources of 
information than are open to ourselves. By variously com- 
bining and reasonmg from these data modern critics have 
produced a third Socrates, who is often little more than 
the embodiment of their own favourite opinions. 

In England, the most generally accepted method seems 
to be that followed by Grote. This consists in taking the 
Platonic Apologia as a sufficiently faithful report of the 
defence actually made by Socrates on his trial, and piecing 
it on to the details supplied by Xenophon, or at least to as 
many of them as can be made to fit, without too obvious an 
accommodation of their meaning. If, however, we ask on 
what grounds a greater historical credibility is attributed to 
the Apologia than to the Republic or the PJiaedo, none can be 
offered except the seemingly transparent truthfulness of the 
narrative itself, an argument which will not weigh much with 
those who remember how brilliant was Plato's talent for 
fiction, and how unscrupulously it could be employed for 
purposes of edification. The Phaedo puts an autobiographi- 
cal statement into the mouth of Socrates which we only 
know to be imaginary because it involves the acceptance of 
a theory unknown to the real Socrates. Why, then, may 
not Plato have thought proper to introduce equally fictitious 
details into the speech delivered by his master before the 
dicastery, if, indeed, the speech, as w-e have it, be not a fancy 
composition from beginning to end .'* 


Before we can come to a decision on this point it will be 
necessary briefly to recapitulate the statements in question. 
Socrates is defending himself against a capital charge. He 
fears that a prejudice respecting him may exist in the minds 
of the jury, and tries to explain how it arose without any 
fault of his, as follows : — A certain friend of his had asked 
the oracle at Delphi whether there was any man wiser than 
Socrates .'' The answer was that no man was wiser. Not 
being conscious of possessing any wisdom, great or small, he 
felt considerably surprised on hearing of this declaration, and 
thought to convince the god of falsehood by finding out some 
one wiser than himself. He first went to an eminent politi- 
cian, who, however, proved, on examination, to be utterly 
ignorant, with the further disadvantage that it was impossible 
to convince him of his ignorance. On applying the same test 
to others a precisely similar result was obtained. It was 
only the handicraftsmen who could give a satisfactory account 
of themselves, and their knowledge of one trade made them 
fancy that they understood everything else equally well. 
Thus the meaning of the oracle was shown to be that God 
alone is truly wise, and that of all men he is wisest who, 
like Socrates, perceives that human wisdom is worth little or 
nothing. Ever since then, Socrates has made it his business 
to vindicate the divine veracity by seeking out and expos- 
ing every pretender to knowledge that he can find, a line 
of conduct which has made him extremely unpopular 
in Athens, while it has also won him a great reputation 
for wisdom, as people supposed that the matters on which 
he convicted others of ignorance were perfectly clear to 

The first difficulty that strikes one in connexion with this 
extraordinary story arises out of the oracle on which it all 
hinges. Had such a declaration been really made by the 
Pythia, would not Xenophon have eagerly quoted it as a 
proof of the high favour in which his hero stood with the 


gods ? ' And how could Socrates have acquired so great a 
reputation before entering on the cross-examining career 
which alone made him conscious of any superiority over 
other men, and had alone won the admiration of his fellow- 
citizens? Our doubts are still further strengthened when we 
find that the historical Socrates did not by any means profess 
the sweeping scepticism attributed to him by Plato, So far 
from believing that ignorance was the common and necessary 
let of all mankind, himself included, he held that action 
should, so far as possible, be entirely guided by knowledge ; '^ 
that the man who did not always know what he was about 
resembled a slave ; that the various virtues were only dif- 
ferent forms of knowledge ; that he himself possessed this 
knowledge, and was perfectly competent to share it with his 
friends. We do, indeed, find him very ready to convince 
ignorant and presumptuous persons of their deficiencies, but 
only that he may lead them, if well disposed, into the path 
of right understanding. He also thought that there were 
certain secrets which would remain for ever inaccessible to 
the human intellect, facts connected with the structure of the 
universe which the gods had reserved for their own exclusive 
cognisance. This, however, was, according to him, a kind 
of knowledge which, even if it could be obtained, would not 
be particularly worth having, and the search after which 
would leave us no leisure for more useful acquisitions. Nor 
does the Platonic Socrates seem to have been at the trouble 
of arguing against natural science. The subjects of his 
elenchus are the professors of such arts as politics, rhetoric, 
and poetry. Further, we have something stronger than a 
simple inference from the facts recorded by Xenophon ; we 
have his express testimony to the fact that Socrates did not 

' The oracle quoted in the Apologia Socratis attributed to Xenophon praises 
Socrates not for wisdom but for independence, justice, and temperance. More- 
over, the work in question is held to l)e spurious by nearly every critic. 

2 Mem., IV., vi., i. 



limit himself to confuting people who fancied they knew 
everything ; here we must either have a direct reference to 
the Apologia, or to a theory identical with that which it 
embodies. Some stress has been laid on a phrase quoted by 
Xenophon himself as having been used by Hippias, which at 
first sight seems to support Plato's view. The Elian Sophist 
charges Socrates with practising a continual irony, refuting 
others and not submitting to be questioned himself ; ' an 
accusation which, we may observe in passing, is not borne 
out by the discussion that subsequently takes place between 
them. Here, however, we must remember that Socrates used 
to convey instruction under the form of a series of leading 
questions, the answers to which showed that his interlocutor 
understood and assented to the doctrine propounded. Such 
a method might easily give rise to the misconception that he 
refused to disclose his own particular opinions, and contented 
himself with eliciting those held by others. Finally, it is to be 
noted that the idea of fulfilling a religious nnssion, or exposing 
human ignorance ad majorem Dei glorianu, on which Grote 
lays such stress, has no place in Xenophon's conception of his 
master, although, had such an idea been really present, one 
can hardly imagine how it could have been passed over by a 
writer with whom piety amounted to superstition. It is, on 
the other hand, an idea which would naturally occur to a 
great religious reformer who proposed to base his reconstruc- 
tion of society on faith in a supernatural order, and the desire 
to realise it here below. 

So far we have contrasted the Apologia with the Memora- 
bilia. We have now to consider in what relation it stands to 
Plato's other writings. The constructive dogmatic Socrates, 
who is a principal spokesman in some of them, differs widely 
from the sceptical Socrates of the famous Defence, and the 
difference has been urged as an argument for the historical 
authenticity of the latter.^ Plato, it is implied, would not 

' Mem., IV., iv., 10. - Zcller, Ph. d. Gr., II., a, 103, note 3 sub fin. 


have departed so far from his usual conception of the sage, 
had he not been desirous of reproducing the actual words 
spoken on so solemn an occasion. There are, however- 
several dialogues which seem to have been composed for the 
express purpose of illustrating the negative method supposed 
to have been described by Socrates to his judges, investi- 
gations the sole result of which is to upset the theories of 
other thinkers, or to show that ordinary men act without 
being able to assign a reason for their conduct. Even the 
Republic is professedly tentative in its procedure, and only 
follows out a train of thought which has presented itself 
almost by accident to the company. Unlike Charles Lamb's 
Scotchman, the leading spokesman does not bring, but find, 
and you are invited to cry halves to whatever turns up in his 

Plato had, in truth, a conception of science which no 
knowledge then attained— perhaps one may add, no knowledge 
ever attainable — could completely satisfy. Even the rigour 
of mathematical demonstration did not content him, for 
mathematical truth itself rested on unproved assumptions, as 
we also, by the way, have lately discovered. Perhaps the 
Hegelian system would have fulfilled his requirements ; 
perhaps not even that. Moreover, that the new order which 
he contemplated might be established, it was necessary to 
begin by making a clean sweep of all existing opinions. 
With the urbanity of an Athenian, the piety of a disciple, and 
the instinct of a great dramatic artist, he preferred to assume 
that this indispensable task had already been done by another. 
And of all preceding thinkers, who was so well qualified for 
the undertaking as Socrates ? Who else had wielded the 
weapons of negative dialectic with such consummate dex- 
terity ? Who had assumed such a critical attitude towards 
the beliefs of his contemporaries } Who had been so anxious 
to find a point of attachment for every new truth in the minds 
of his interlocutors ? Who therefore could, with such 


plausibility, be put forward in the guise of one who laid claim 
to no wisdom on his own account ? The son of Phaenar'^te 
seemed made to be the Baptist of a Greek Messiah ; but Plato, 
in treating him as such, has drawn a discreet veil over the 
whole positive side of his predecessor's teaching, and to 
discover what this was we must place ourselves under the 
guidance of Xenophon's more faithful report. 

Not that Xenophon is to be taken as a perfectly accurate 
exponent of the Socratic philosophy. His work, it must be 
remembered, was primarily intended to vindicate Socrates 
from a charge of impiety and immoral teaching, not to 
expound a system which he was perhaps incompetent to 
appreciate or understand. We are bound to accept every- 
thing that he relates ; we are bound to include nothing that 
he does not relate ; but we may fairly readjust the proportions 
of his sketch. It is here that a judicious use of Plato will 
furnish us with the most valuable assistance. He grasped 
Socratism in all its parts and developed it in all directions, so 
that by following back the lines of his system to their origin 
we shall be put on the proper track and shall know where to 
look for the suggestions which were destined to be so mag- 
nificently worked out' 

' It may possibly be asked, Why, if Plato gave only an ideal picture of 
Socrates, are we to accept his versions of the Sophistic teaching as literally exact? 
The answer is that he was compelled, by the nature of the case, to create an 
imaginary Socrates, while he could have no conceivable object in ascribing views 
which he did not himself hold to well-known histcrical personages. Assuming 
an unlimited right of making fictitious statements for the public good, his prin- 
ciples would surely not have permitted him wantonly to calumniate his innocent 
contemporaries by foisting on them odious theories for which they were not 
responsible. Had nobody held such opinions as those attributed to Thrasy- 
machus in the Republic there would have been no object in attacking them ; and 
if anybody held them, why not Thrasymachus as well as another ? With regard 
to the veracity of the Apologia, Grote, in his work on Plato (I. 291), quotes a 
passage from Aristeides the rhetor, stating that all the companions of Socrates 
agreed about the Delphic oracle, and the Socratic disclaimer of knowledge. This, 
however, proves too much, for it shows that Aristeides quite overlooked the 
absence of any reference to either point in Xenophon, and therefore cannot be 
trusted to give an accurate report of the otlier authorities. 



Before entering on our task of reconstruction, we must 
turn aside to consider with what success the same enterprise 
has been attempted by modern German criticism, especially 
by its chief contemporary representative, the last and 
most distinguished historian of Greek philosophy. The 
result at which Zeller, following Schleiermacher, arrives is 
that the great achievement of Socrates was to put forward an 
adequate idea of knowledge ; in other words, to show what 
true science ought to be, and what, as yet, it had never been, 
with the addition of a demand that all action should be 
based on such a scientific knowledge as its only sure founda- 
tion. • To know a thing was to know its essence, its concept, 
the assemblage of qualities which together constitute its defi- 
nition, and make it to be what it is. Former thinkers had 
also sought for knowledge, but not as knowledge, not with a 
clear notion of what it was that they really wanted. Socrates, 
on the other hand, required that men should always be pre- 
pared to give a strict account of the end which they had in 
view, and of the means by which they hoped to gain it. 
Further, it had been customary to single out for exclusive 
attention that quality of an object by which the observer 
happened to be most strongly impressed, passing over all 
the others ; the consequence of which was that the philo- 
sophers had taken a one-sided view of facts, with the result of 
falling into hopeless disagreement among themselves ; the 
Sophists had turned these contradictory points of view 
against one another, and thus effected their mutual de- 
struction ; while the dissolution of objective certainty had led to 
a corresponding dissolution of moral truth. Socrates accepts 
the Sophistic scepticism so far as it applies to the existing 
state of science, but does not push it to the same fatal con- 

' n,. d. Gr., II., a, 93 ff 


ilusion ; he grants that current beliefs should be thoroughly 
sifted and, if necessary, discarded, but only that more solid 
convictions may be substituted for them. Here a place is 
found for his method of self-examination, and for the self- 
conscious ignorance attributed to him by Plato. Comparing 
his notions on particular subjects with his idea of what know- 
ledge in general ought to be, he finds that they do not satisfy 
it ; he knows that he knows nothing. He then has recourse 
to other men who declare that they possess the knowledge of 
which he is in search, but their pretended certainty vanishes 
under the application of his dialectic test This is the 
famous Socratic irony. Finally, he attempts to come at real 
knowledge, that is to say, the construction of definitions, by 
employing that inductive method with the invention of which 
he is credited by Aristotle. This method consists in bringing 
together a number of simple and familiar examples from 
common experience, generalising from them, and correcting 
the generalisations by comparison with negative instances^ 
The reasons that led Socrates to restrict his enquiries to 
human interests are rather lightly passed over by Zeller ; he 
seems at a loss how to reconcile the alleged reform of scien- 
tific method with the complete abandonment of those 
physical investigations which, we are told, had suffered so 
severely from being cultivated on a different system. 

There seem to be three principal points aimed at in the 
very ingenious theory which we have endeavoured to sum- 
marise as adequately as space would permit. Zeller appa- 
rently wishes to bring Socrates into line with the great 
tradition of early Greek thought, to distinguish him markedly 
from the Sophists, and to trace back to his initiative the 
intellectual method of Plato and Aristotle. We cannot 
admit that the threefold attempt has succeeded. It seems to 
us that a picture into which so much Platonic colouring has 
been thrown would for that reason alone, and without any 
further objection, be open to very grave suspicion. But even 
accepting the historical accuracy of everything that Plato has 


said, or of as much as may be required, our critic's inferences 
are not justified by his authorities. Neither the Xenophontic 
nor the Platonic Socrates seeks knowledge for its own sake, 
nor does either of them offer a satisfactory definition of 
knowledge, or, indeed, any definition at all. Aristotle was 
the first to explain what science meant, and he did so, not by 
developing the Socratic notion, but by incorporating it with 
the other methods independently struck out by physical 
philosophy. What would science be without the study of 
causation } and was not this ostentatiously neglected by the 
founder of conceptualism } Again, Plato, in the Theaetetus, 
makes his Socrates criticise various theories of knowledge, 
but does not even hint that the critic had himself a better 
theory than any of them in reserve. The author of the 
Pliaedo and the Republic was less interested in reforming the 
methods of scientific investigation than in directing research 
towards that which he believed to be alone worth knowing, 
the eternal ideas which underlie phenomena. The historical 
Socrates had no suspicion of transcendental realities ; but he 
thought that a knowledge of physics was unattainable, and 
would be worthless if attained. By knowledge he meant art 
rather than science, and his method of defining was intended 
not for the latter but for the former. Those, he said, who can 
clearly express what they want to do are best secured against 
failure, and best able to communicate their skill to others. 
He made out that the various virtues were different kinds of 
knowledge, not from any extraordinary opinion of its pre- 
ciousness, but because he thought that knowledge was the 
variable element in volition and that everything else was con- 
stant. Zeller dwells strongly on the Socratic identification of 
cognition with conduct ; but how could anyone who fell at the 
first step into such a confusion of ideas be fitted either to ex- 
plain what science meant or to come forward as the reformer 
of its methods.? Nor is it correct to say that Socrates 
approached an object from every point of view, and took note 
of all its characteristic qualities. On the contrary, one would 


be inclined to charge him with the opposite tendency, with 
fixing his gaze too exclusively on some one quality, that to 
him, as a teacher, was the most interesting. His identifica- 
tion of virtue with knowledge is an excellent instance of this 
habit. So also is his identification of beauty with service- 
ableness, and his general disposition to judge of everything 
by a rather narrow standard of utility. On the other hand, 
Greek physical speculation would have gained nothing by a 
minute attention to definitions, and most probably would have 
been mischievously hampered by it. Aristotle, at any rate, 
prefers the method of Democritus to the method of Plato ; 
and Aristotle himself is much nearer the truth when he 
follows on the Ionian or Sicilian track than when he attempts 
to define what in the then existing state of knowledge could 
not be satisfactorily defined. To talk about the various 
elements — earth, air, fire, and water — as things with which 
everybody was already familiar, may have been a crude un- 
scientific procedure ; to analyse them into different combina- 
tions of the hot and the cold, the light and the heavy, the dry 
and the moist, was not only erroneous but fatally misleading ; 
it was arresting enquiry, and doing precisely what the Sophists 
had been accused of doing, that is, substituting the conceit for 
the reality of wisdom. It was, no doubt, necessary that mathe- 
matical terms should be defined ; but where are we told that 
geometricians had to learn this truth from Socrates } The 
sciences of quantity, which could hardly have advanced a 
step without the help of exact conceptions, were successfully 
cultivated before he was born, and his influence was used to 
discourage rather than to promote their accurate study. With 
regard to the comprehensive all-sided examination of objects 
on which Zeller lays so much stress, and which he seems to 
regard as something peculiar to the conceptual method, it 
had unquestionably been neglected by Parmenides and 
Heracleitus ; but had not the deficiency been already made 
good by their immediate successors } What else is the 


philosophy of Empedocles, the Atomists, and Anaxagoras, 
but an attempt — we must add, a by no means unsuccessful 
attempt — to recombine the opposing aspects of Nature which 
had been too exclusively insisted on at Ephesus and Elea ? 
Again, to say that the Sophists had destroyed physical specu- 
lation by setting these partial aspects of truth against one 
another is, in our opinion, equally erroneous. First of all, 
Zeller here falls into the old mistake, long ago corrected by 
Grote, of treating the class in question as if they all held 
similar views. We have shown in the preceding chapter, if 
indeed it required to be shown, that the Sophists were 
divided into two principal schools, of which one was devoted 
to the cultivation of physics. Protagoras and Gorgias were 
the only sceptics ; and it was not by setting one theory 
against another, but by working out a single theory to its last 
consequences, that their scepticism was reached ; with no 
more effect, be it observed, than was exercised by Pyrrho on 
the science of his day. For the two great thinkers, with the 
aid of whose conclusions it was attempted to discredit ob- 
jective reality, were already left far behind at the close of the 
fifth century ; and neither their reasonings nor reasonings 
based on theirs, could exercise much influence on a genera- 
tion which had Anaxagoras on Nature and the encyclo- 
paedia of Democritus in its hands. There was, however, one 
cHtic who really did what the Sophists are charged with 
doing ; who derided and denounced physical science on the 
ground that its professors were hopelessly at issue with one 
another ; and this critic was no other than Socrates himself. 
He maintained, on purely popular and superficial grounds, 
the same sceptical attitude to which Protagoras gave at least 
the semblance of a psychological justification. And he 
wished that attention should be concentrated on the very 
subjects which Protagoras undertook to teach — namely, 
ethics, politics, and dialectics. Once more, to say that" 
Socrates was conscious of not coming up to his own 


standard of true knowledge is inconsistent with Xenophon's 
account, where he is represented as quite ready to answer 
every question put to him, and to offer a definition of 
everything that he considered worth defining. His scep- 
ticism, if it ever existed, was as artificial and short-lived as 
the scepticism of Descartes. 

The truth is that no man who philosophised at all was 
ever more free from tormenting doubts and self-questionings ; 
no man was ever more thoroughly satisfied with himself than 
Socrates. Let us add that, from a Hellenic point of view, no 
man had ever more reason for self-satisfaction. None, he 
observed in his last days, had ever lived a better or a happier 
life. Naturally possessed of a powerful constitution, he had 
so strengthened it by habitual moderation and constant train- 
ing that up to the hour of his death, at the age of seventy, he 
enjoyed perfect bodily and mental health. Neither hardship 
nor exposure, neither abstinence nor indulgence in what to 
other men would have been excess, could make any impression 
on that adamantine frame. We know not how much truth 
there may be in the story that, at one time, he was remark- 
able for the violence of his passions ; at any rate, when our 
principal informants knew him he was conspicuous for the ease 
with which he resisted temptation, and for the imperturbable 
sweetness of his temper. His wants, being systematically 
reduced to a minimum, were easily satisfied, and his cheerful- 
ness never failed. He enjoyed Athenian society so much that 
nothing but military duty could draw him away from it. For 
Socrates was a veteran who had served through three arduous 
campaigns, and could give lectures on the duties of a general, 
which so high an authority as Xenophon thought worth re- 
porting. He seems to have been on excellent terms with his 
fellow-citizens, never having been engaged in a lawsuit, either 
as plaintiff or defendant, until the fatal prosecution which 
brought his career to a close. He could, on that occasion, 
refuse to prepare a defence, proudly observing that his whole 


life had been a preparation, that no man had ever seen him 
commit an unjust or impious deed. The anguished cries of 
doubt uttered by Italian and Sicilian thinkers could have no 
meaning for one who, on principle, abstained from ontological 
speculations ; the uncertainty of human destiny which hung 
like a thunder-cloud over Pindar and the tragic poets had 
melted away under the sunshine of arguments, demonstrating, 
to his satisfaction, the reality and beneficence of a super- 
natural Providence. For he believed that the gods would 
afford guidance in doubtful conjunctures to all who approached 
their oracles in a reverent spirit ; while, over and above the 
Divine counsels accessible to all men, he was personally 
attended by an oracular voice, a mysterious monitor, which 
told him what to avoid, though not what to do, a circumstance 
well worthy of note, for it shows that he did not, like Plato, 
attribute every kind of right action to divine inspiration. 

It may be said that all this only proves Socrates to have 
been, in his own estimation, a good and happy, but not neces- 
sarily a wise man. With him, however, the last of these con- 
ditions was inseparable from the other two. He was prepared 
to demonstrate, step by step, that his conduct was regulated 
by fixed and ascertainable principles, and was of the kind 
best adapted to secure happiness both for himself and for 
others. That there were deficiencies in his ethical theory 
may readily be admitted. The idea of universal beneficence 
seems never to have dawned on his horizon ; and chastity was 
to him what sobriety is to us, mainly a self-regarding virtue. 
We do not find that he ever recommended conjugal fidelity 
to husbands ; he regarded prostitution very much as it is still, 
unhappily, regarded by men of the world among ourselves ; 
and in opposing the darker vices of his countrymen, it was 
the excess rather than the perversion of appetite which he 
condemned. These, however, are points which do not inter- 
fere with our general contention that Socrates adopted the 
ethical standard of his time, that he adopted it on rational 


grounds, that having adopted he acted up to tt, and that in so 
reasoning and acting he satisfied his own ideal of absolute 

Even as regards physical phenomena, Socrates, so far from 
professing complete ignorance, held a very positive theory 
which he was quite ready to share with his friends. He 
taught what is called the doctrine of final causes ; and, so far 
as our knowledge goes, he was either the first to teach it, or, 
at any rate, the first to prove the existence of divine agencies 
by its means. The old poets had occasionally attributed the 
origin of man and other animals to supernatural intelligence, 
but, apparently, without being led to their conviction by any 
evidence of design displayed in the structure of organised 
creatures. Socrates, on the other hand, went through the 
various external organs of the human body with great minute- 
ness, and showed, to his own satisfaction, that they evinced 
the workings of a wise and beneficent Artist. We shall have 
more to say further on about this whole argument ; here we 
only wish to observe that, intrinsically, it does not differ very 
much from the speculations which its author derided as the 
fruit of an impertinent curiosity ; and that no one who now 
employed it would, for a single moment, be called an agnostic 
or a sceptic. 

Must we, then, conclude that Socrates was, after all, nothing 
but a sort of glorified Greek Paley, whose principal achieve- 
ment was to present the popular ideas of his time on morals 
and politics under the form of a rather grovelling utilitarianism ; 
and whose ' evidences of natural and revealed religion ' bore 
much the same relation to Greek mythology as the corre- 
sponding lucubrations of the worthy archdeacon bore to 
Christian theology.? Even were this the whole truth, it 
should be remembered that there was an interval of twenty- 
three centuries between the two teachers, which ought to be 
taken due account of in estimating their relative importance. 
Socrates, with his closely-reasoned, vividly-illustrated ethical 


expositions, had gained a tactical advantage over the vague 
declamations of Gnomic poetry and the isolated aphorisms 
of the Seven Sages, comparable to that possessed by Xenophon 
and his Ten Thousand in dealing with the unwieldy masses 
of Persian infantry and the undisciplined mountaineers of 
Carduchia ; while his idea of a uniformly beneficent Creator 
marked a still greater advance on the jealous divinities of 
Herodotus. On the other hand, as against Hume and Ben- 
tham, Paley's pseudo-scientific paraphernalia were like the 
muskets and cannon of an Asiatic army when confronted by 
the English conquerors of India. Yet had Socrates done no 
more than contributed to philosophy the idea just alluded to, 
his place in the evolution of thought, though honourable, 
would not have been what it is justly held to be — unique. 


So far we have been occupied in disputing the views of 
others ; it is now time that our own view should be stated. 
We maintain, then, that Socrates first brought out the idea, 
not of knowledge, but of mind in its full significance ; that he 
first studied the whole circle of human interests as affected by 
mind ; that, in creating dialectics, he gave this study its proper 
method, and simultaneously gave his method the only subject- 
matter on which it could be profitably exercised ; finally, that 
by these immortal achievements philosophy was constituted, 
and received a threefold verification — first, from the life of its 
founder ; secondly, from the success with which his spirit was 
communicated to a band of followers ; thirdly, from the whole 
subsequent history of thought. Before substantiating these 
assertions point by point, it will be expedient to glance at the 
external influences which may be supposed to have moulded 
the great intellect and the great character now under con- 

Socrates was, before all things, an Athenian. To under- 


stand him we must first understand what the Athenian 
character was in itself and independently of disturbing cir- 
cumstances. Our estimate of that character is too apt to be 
biassed by the totally exceptional position which Athens 
occupied during the fifth century B.C. Tlie possession of 
empire developed qualities in her children which they had 
not exhibited at an earlier period, and which they ceased to 
exhibit when empire had been lost. Among these must be 
reckoned military genius, an adventurous and romantic spirit, 
and a high capacity for poetical and artistic production — 
qualities displayed, it is true, by every Greek race, but by 
some for a longer and by others for a shorter period. Now, 
the tradition of greatness does not seem to have gone very 
far back with Athens. Her legendary history, what we have 
of it, is singularly unexciting. The same rather monotonous 
though edifying story of shelter accorded to persecuted 
fugitives, of successful resistance to foreign invasions, and of 
devoted self-sacrifice to the State, meets us again and again. 
The Attic drama itself shows how much more stirring was 
the legendary lore of other tribes. One need only look at the 
few remaining pieces which treat of patriotic subjects to 
appreciate the difference ; and an English reader may easily 
convince himself of it by comparing Mr. Swinburne's Erech- 
tluus with the same author's Atalanta. There is a want of 
vivid individuality perceptible all through. Even Theseus, 
the great national hero, strikes one as a rather tame sort of 
personage compared with Perseus, Heracles, and Jason. No 
Athenian figures prominently in the Iliad \ and on the only 
two occasions when Pindar was employed to commemorate 
an Athenian victory at the Panhellenic games, he seems 
unable to associate it with any legendary glories in the past. 
The circumstances which for a long time made Attic history 
so barren of incident are the same to which its subsequent, 
importance is due. The relation in which Attica stood to 
the rest of Greece was somewhat similar to the relation in 


which Tuscany, long afterwards, stood to the rest of Italy, 
It was the region least disturbed by foreign immigration, and 
therefore became the seat of a slower but steadier mental 
development. It was among those to whom war, revolution, 
colonisation, and commerce brought the most many-sided 
experience that intellectual activity was most speedily 
ripened. Literature, art, and science were cultivated with 
extraordinary success by the Greek cities of Asia Minor, and 
even in some parts of the old country, before Athens had a 
single man of genius, except Solon, to boast of But along 
with the enjoyment of undisturbed tranquillity, habits of self- 
government, orderliness, and reasonable reflection were estab- 
lishing themselves, which finally enabled her to inherit all 
that her predecessors in the race had accomplished, and to 
add, what alone they still wanted, the crowning consecration 
of self-conscious mind. There had, simultaneously, been 
growing up an intensely patriotic sentiment, due, in part, to 
the long-continued independence of Attica ; in part, also, we 
may suppose, to the union, at a very early period, of her 
different townships into a single city. The same causes had, 
however, also favoured a certain love of comfort, a jovial 
pleasure -seeking disposition often degenerating into coarse 
sensuality, a thriftiness, and an inclination to grasp at any 
source of profit, coupled with extreme credulity where hopes 
of profit were excited, together forming an element of prose- 
comedy which mingles strangely with the tragic grandeur of 
Athens in her imperial age, and emerges into greater promi- 
nence after her fail, until it becomes the predominant charac- 
teristic of her later days. It is, we may observe, the contrast 
between these two aspects of Athenian life which gives the 
plays of Aristophanes their unparalleled comic effect, and it 
is their very awkward conjunction which makes Euripides so 
unequal and disappointing a poet. We find, then, that the 
original Athenian character is marked by reasonable reflec- 
tion, by patriotism, and by a tendency towards self-seeking 


materialism. Let us take note of these three qualities, for 
we shall meet with them again in the philosophy of Socrates. 
Empire, when it came to Athens, came almost unsought. 
The Persian invasions had made her a great naval power ; 
the free choice of her allies placed her at the head of a great 
maritime confederacy. The sudden command of vast re- 
sources and the tension accumulated during ages of repose, 
stimulated all her faculties into preternatural activity. Her 
spirit was steeled almost to the Dorian temper, and entered 
into victorious rivalry with the Dorian Muse. Not only did 
her fleet sweep the sea, but her army, for once, defeated 
Theban hoplites in the field. The grand choral harmonies of 
Sicilian song, the Sicyonian recitals of epic adventure, were 
rolled back into a framework for the spectacle of individual 
souls meeting one another in argument, expostulation, en- 
treaty, and defiance ; a nobler Doric edifice rose to confront 
the Aeginetan temple of Athene ; the strained energy of 
Aeginotan combatants was relaxed into attitudes of reposing 
power, and the eternal smile on their faces was deepened into 
the sadness of unfathomable thought. But to the violet- 
crowned city, Athene was a giver of wealth and wisdom 
rather than of prowess ; her empire rested on the contributions 
of unwilling allies, and on a technical proficiency which others 
were sure to equal in time ; so that the Corinthian orators 
could say with> justice that Athenian skill was more easily 
acquired than Dorian valour. At once receptive and com- 
municative, Athens absorbed all that Greece could teach her, 
and then returned it in a more elaborate form, but without 
the freshness of its earliest inspiration. Yet there was one 
field that still afibrded scope for creative originality. Habits 
of analysis, though fatal to spontaneous production, were 
favourable, or rather were necessary, to the growth of a new 
philosophy. After the exhaustion of every limited idealism, 
there remained that highest idealisation which is the reduction 
of all past experience to a metliod available for the guidance 


of all future action. To accomplish this last enterprise it 
was necessary that a single individual should gather up in 
himself the spirit diffused through a whole people, bestowing 
on it by that very concentration the capability of an infinitely 
wider extension when its provisional representative should 
have passed away from the scene, 

Socrates represents the popular Athenian character much 
as Richardson, in a different sphere, represents the English 
middle-class character — represents it, that is to say, elevated 
into transcendent genius. Except this elevation, there was 
nothing anomalous about him. If he was exclusively 
critical, rationalising, unadventurous, prosaic ; in a word, as 
the German historians say, something of a Philistine ; so, we 
may suspect, were the mass of his countrymen. His illus- 
trations were taken from such plebeian employments as 
cattle-breeding, cobbling, weaving, and sailoring. These 
were his ' touches of things common ' which at last ' rose to 
touch the spheres.' He both practised and inculcated 
virtues, the value of which is especially evident in humble 
life" — frugality and endurance. But he also represents the 
Demos in its sovereign capacity as legislator and judge. 
Without aspiring to be an orator or statesman, he reserves 
the ultimate power of arbitration and election. He submits 
candidates for office to a severe scrutiny, and demands from 
all men an even stricter account of their lives than retiring 
magistrates had to give of their conduct, when in power, to 
the people. He applies the judicial method of cross-examina- 
tion to the detection of error, and the parliamentary method 
of joint deliberation to the discovery of truth. He follows 
out the democratic principles of free speech and self-govern- 
ment, by submitting every question that arises to public 
discussion, and insisting on no conclusion that does not 
command the willing assent of his audience. Finally, his 
conversation, popular in form, was popular also in this 
respect, that everybody who chose to listen might have the 



benefit of it gratuitously. Here we have a great change 
from the scornful dogmatism of Heracleitus, and the 
virtually oligarchic exclusiveness of the teachers who de- 
manded high fees for their instruction. 

To be free and to rule over freemen were, with Socrates, 
as with every Athenian, the goals of ambition, only his 
freedom meant absolute immunity from the control of 
passion or habit ; government meant superior knowledge, 
and government of freemen meant the power of producing 
intellectual conviction. In his eyes, the possessor of any 
art was, so far, a ruler, and the only true ruler, being obeyed 
under severe penalties by all who stood in need of his skill. 
But the royal art which he himself exercised, without 
expressly laying claim to it, was that which assigns its proper 
sphere to every other art, and provides each individual with 
the employment which his peculiar faculties demand. This 
is Athenian liberty and Athenian imperialism carried into 
education, but so idealised and purified that they can hardly 
be recognised at first sight. 

The philosophy of Socrates is more obviously related to 
the practical and religious tendencies of his countrymen. 
Neither he nor they had any sympathy with the cosmological 
speculations which seemed to be unconnected with human 
interests, and to trench on matters beyond the reach of 
human knowledge. The old Attic sentiment was averse 
from adventures of any kind, whether political or intellectual. 
Yet the new spirit of enquiry awakened by Ionian thought 
could not fail to react powerfully on the most intelligent 
man among the most intelligent people of Hellas. Above 
all, one paramount idea which went beyond the confines of 
the old philosophy had been evolved by the differentiation 
of knowledge from its object, and had been presented, 
although under a materialising form, by Anaxagoras to the 
Athenian public. Socrates took up this idea, which expressed 
what was highest and most distinctive in the national 


character, and applied it to the development of ethical 
speculation. We have seen, in the last chapter, how an 
attempt was made to base moral truth on the results of 
natural philosophy, and how that attempt was combated by 
the Humanistic school. It could not be doubtful which side 
Socrates would take in this controversy. That he paid any 
attention to the teaching of Protagoras and Gorgias is, 
indeed, highly problematic, for their names are never 
mentioned by Xenophon, and the Platonic dialogues in which 
they figure are evidently fictitious. Nevertheless, he had to 
a certain extent arrived at the same conclusion with them, 
although by a different path. He was opposed, on religious 
grounds, to the theories which an acute psychological analysis 
had led them to reject. Accordingly, the idea of Nature is 
almost entirely absent from his conversation, and, like Prota- 
goras, he is guided solely by regard for human interests. To 
the objection that positive laws were always changing, he 
victoriously replied that it was because they were undergoing 
an incessant adaptation to varying needs.' Like Protagoras, 
again, he was a habitual student of old Greek literature, and 
sedulously sought out the practical lessons in which it 
abounded. To him, as to the early poets and sages, 
Sophrosyne, or self-knowledge and self-command taken 
together, was the first and most necessary of all virtue^^_j 
Unlike them, however, he does not simply accept it from 
tradition, but gives it a philosophical foundation — the newly- 
established distinction between mind and body ; a distinction 
not to be confounded with the old Psychism, although Plato, 
for his reforming purposes, shortly afterwards linked the two 
together. The disembodied spirit of mythology was a mere 
shadow or memory, equally destitute of solidity and of 
understanding ; with Socrates, mind meant the personal 
consciousness which retains its continuous identity through 
every change, and as against every passing impulse. Like 

• In the conversation with Hippias already referred to. 


the Humanists, he made it the seat of knowledge — more 
than the Humanists, he gave it the control of appetite. In 
other words, he adds the idea of will to that of intellect ; but 
instead of treating them as distinct faculties or functions, he 
absolutely identifies them. Mind having come to be first 
recognised as a knowing power, carried over its association 
with knowledge into the volitional sphere, and the two were 
first disentangled by Aristotle, though very imperfectly even 
by him. Yet no thinker helped so much to make the 
confusion apparent as the one to whom it was due. Socrates 
deliberately insisted that those who knew the good must 
necessarily be good themselves. He taught that every virtue 
was a science ; courage, for example, was a knowledge of 
the things which should or should not be feared ; temperance, 
a knowledge of what should or should not be desired, and so 
forth. Such an account of virtue would, perhaps, be sufficient 
if all men did what, in their opinion, they ought to do ; and, 
how^ever strange it may seem, Socrates assumed that such 
was actually the case.' The paradox, even if accepted at the 
moment by his youthful friends, was sure to be rejected, on 
examination, by cooler heads, and its rejection would prove 
that the whole doctrine was essentially unsound. Various 
causes prevented Socrates from perceiving what seemed so 
clear to duller intelligences than his. First of all, he did not 
separate duty from personal interest. A true Athenian, he 
recommended temperance and righteousness very largely on 
account of the material advantages they secured. That the 
agreeable and the honourable, the expedient and the just, 
frequently came into collision, was at that time a rhetorical 
commonplace ; and it .might be supposed that, if they were 
shown to coincide, no motive to misconduct but ignorance 
could exist. Then, again, being accustomed to compare 
conduct of every kind with the practice of such arts as flute- 
playing, he had come to take knowledge in a rather extended 

' Mem., III., i.\., 4. 


sense, just as we do when we say, indifferently, that a man 
knows geometry and that he knows how to draw. Aristotle 
himself did not see more clearly than Socrates that moral 
habits are only to be acquired by incessant practice ; only the 
earlier thinker would have observed that knowledge of every 
kind is gained by the same laborious repetition of particular 
actions. To the obvious objection that, in this case, morality 
cannot, like theoretical truth, be imparted by the teacher to 
his pupils, but must be won by the learner for himself, he 
would probably have replied that all truth is really evolved 
by the mind from itself, and that he, for that very reason, 
disclaimed the name of a teacher, and limited himself to the 
seemingly humbler task of awakening dormant capacities 
in others. 

An additional influence, not the less potent because un- 
acknowledged, was the same craving for a principle of unity 
that had impelled early Greek thought to seek for the sole 
substance or cause of physical phenomena in some single 
material clement, whether water, air, or fire ; and just as 
these various principles were finally decomposed into the 
multitudinous atoms of Leucippus, so also, but much more 
speedily, did the general principle of knowledge tend to 
decompose itself into innumerable cognitions of the partial 
ends or utilities which action was directed to achieve. The 
need of a comprehensive generalisation again made itself felt, 
and all good was summed up under the head of happiness. 
The same difficulties recurred under another form. To 
define happiness proved not less difficult than to define use 
or practical knowledge. Three points of view offered them- 
selves, and all three had been more or less anticipated by 
Socrates. Happiness might mean unmixed pleasure, or the 
exclusive cultivation of man's higher nature, or voluntary 
subordination to a larger whole. The founder of Athenian 
philosophy used to present each of these, in turn, as an end, 
without recognising the possibility of a conflict between 


them ; and it certainly would be a mistake to represent them 
as constantly opposed. Yet a truly scientific principle must 
either prove their identity, or make its choice among them, 
or discover something better. Plato seems to have taken up 
the three methods, one after the other, without coming to 
any very satisfactory conclusion. Aristotle identified the 
first two, but failed, or rather did not attempt to harmonise 
them with the third. Succeeding schools tried various 
combinations, laying more or less stress on different 
principles at different periods, till the will of an omnipotent 
Creator was substituted for every human standard. With 
the decline of dogmatic theology we have seen them all come 
to life again, and the old battle is still being fought out under 
our eyes. Speaking broadly, it may be said that the method 
which we have placed first on the list is more particularly 
represented in England, the second in France, and the last 
in Germany. Yet they refuse to be separated by any rigid 
line of demarcation, and each tends either to combine with 
or to pass into one or both of the rival theories. Modern 
utilitarianism, as constituted by John Stuart Mill, although 
avowedly based on the paramount value of pleasure, in 
admitting qualitative differences among enjoyments, and in 
subordinating individual to social good, introduces principles 
of action which are not, properly speaking, hedonistic. 
Neither is the idea of the whole by any means free from 
ambiguity. We have party, church, nation, order, progress, 
race, humanity, and the sum total of sensitive beings, all 
putting in their claims to figure as that entity. Where the 
pursuit of any single end gives rise to conflicting pretensions, 
a wise man will check them by reference to the other 
accredited standards, and will cherish a not unreasonable 
expectation that the evolution of life is tending to bring them 
all into ultimate agreement. 

Returning to Socrates, we must further note that his 
identification of virtue with science, though it does not ex- 


press the whole truth, expresses a considerable part of it, espe- 
cially as to him conduct was a much more complex problem 
than it is to some modern teachers. Only those who believe 
in the existence of intuitive and infallible moral perceptions 
can consistently maintain that nothing is easier than to know 
our duty, and nothing harder than to do it. Even then, the 
intuitions must extend beyond general principles, and also 
inform us how and where to apply them. That no such in- 
ward illumination exists is sufficiently shown by experience ; 
so much so that the mischief done by foolish people with 
good intentions has become proverbial. Modern casuists 
have, indeed, drawn a distinction between the intention and 
the act, making us responsible for the purity of the former, 
not for the consequences of the latter. Though based on the 
Socratic division between mind and body, this distinction 
would not have commended itself to Socrates. His object 
was not to save souls from sin, but to save individuals, 
families, and states from the ruin which ignorance of fact 

If we enlarge our point of view so as to cover the moral 
influence of knowledge on society taken collectively, its rela- 
tive importance will be vastly increased. When Auguste 
Comte assigns the supreme direction of progress to advancing 
science, and when Buckle, following Fichte, makes the totality 
of human action depend on the totality of human knowledge, 
they are virtually attributing to intellectual education an even 
more decisive part than it played in the Socratic ethics. 
Even those who reject the theory, when pushed to such an 
extreme, will admit that the same quantity of self-devotion 
must produce a far greater effect when it is guided by deeper 
insight into the conditions of existence. 

The same principle may be extended in a different direc- 
tion if we substitute for knowledge, in its narrower significance, 
the more general conception of associated feeling. We shall 
then see that belief, habit, emotion, and instinct are only 


different stages of the same process— the process by which 
experience is organised and made subservient to vital ac- 
tivity. The simplest reflex and the highest intellectual 
conviction are alike based on sensori-motor mechanism, and, 
so far, differ only through the relative complexity and insta- 
bility of the nervous connexions involved. Knowledge is 
life in the making, and when it fails to control practice fails 
only by coming into conflict with passion — that is to say, 
with the consolidated results of an earlier experience. 
Physiology offers another analogy to the Socratic method 
which must not be overlooked. Socrates recommended the 
formation of definite conceptions because, among other 
advantages, they facilitated the diffusion of useful know- 
ledge. So, also, the organised associations of feelings are not 
only serviceable to individuals, but may be transmitted to 
offspring with a regularity proportioned to their definiteness. 
How naturally these deductions follow from the doctrine 
under consideration, is evident from their having been, to a 
certain extent, already drawn by Plato. His plan for the 
systematic education of feeling under scientific supervision 
answers to the first ; his plan for breeding an improved race 
of citizens by placing marriage under State control answers 
to the second. Yet it is doubtful whether Plato's predecessor 
would have sanctioned any scheme tending to substitute an 
external compulsion, whether felt or not, for freedom and 
individual initiative, and a blind instinct for the self-conscious- 
ness which can give an account of its procedure at every step. 
He would bring us back from social physics and physiology 
to psychology, and from psychology to dialectic philosophy. 


To Socrates himself the strongest reason for believing in 
the identity of conviction and practice was, perhaps, that he 
had made it a living reality. With him to know the right 


and to do it were the same. In this sense we have already 
said that his Hfe was the first verification of his philosophy. 
And just as the results of his ethical teaching can only be ideally 
separated from their application to his conduct, so also these 
results themselves cannot be kept apart from the method by 
which they were reached ; nor is the process by which he 
reached them for himself distinguishable from the process by 
which he communicated them to his friends. In touching on 
this point, we touch on that which is greatest and most dis- 
tinctively original in the Socratic system, or rather in the 
Socratic impulse to systematisation of every kind. What it 
was will be made clearer by reverting to the central concep- 
tion of mind. With Protagoras mind meant an ever-changing 
stream of feeling ; with Gorgias it was a principle of hopeless 
isolation, the interchange of thoughts between one conscious- 
ness and another, by means of signs, being an illusion. 
Socrates, on the contrary, attributed to it a steadfast control 
over passion, and a unifying function in society through its 
essentially synthetic activity, its need of co-operation and 
responsive assurance. He saw that the reason which over- 
comes animal desire tends to draw men together just as 
sensuality tends to drive them into hostile collision. If he 
recommended temperance on account of the increased egoistic 
pleasure which it secures, he recommended it also as making 
the individual a more efficient instrument for serving the 
community. If he inculcated obedience to the established 
laws, it was no doubt partly on grounds of enlightened self- 
interest, but also because union and harmony among citizens 
were thereby secured. And if he insisted on the necessity 
of forming definite conceptions, it was with the same twofold 
reference to personal and public advantage. Along with the 
diffusive, social character of mind he recognised its essential 
spontaneity. In a commonwealth where all citizens were 
free and equal, there must also be freedom and equality of 
reason. Having worked out a theory of life for himself, he 


desired that all other men should, so far as possible, pass 
through the same bracing discipline. Here we have the secret 
of his famous erotetic method. He did not, like the Sophists, 
give continuous lectures, nor profess, like some of them, to 
answer every question that might be put to him. On the 
contrary, he put a series of questions to all who came in his 
way, generally in the form of an alternative, one side of 
which seemed self-evidently true and the other self-evidently 
false, arranged so as to lead the respondent, step by step, to 
the conclusion which it was desired that he should accept. 
Socrates did not invent this method. It had long been 
practised in the Athenian law-courts as a means for extract- 
ing from the opposite party admissions which could not 
be otherwise obtained, whence it had passed into the tragic 
drama, and into the discussion of philosophical problems. 
Nowhere else was the analytical power of Greek thought 
so brilliantly displayed ; for before a contested proposition 
could be subjected to this mode of treatment, it had to be 
carefully discriminated from confusing adjuncts, considered 
under all the various meanings which it might possibly be 
made to bear, subdivided, if it was complex, into two or more 
distinct assertions, and linked by a minute chain of demon- 
stration to the admission by which its validity was established 
or overthown. 

Socrates, then, did not create the cross-examining 
elenchus, but he gave it two new and very important 
applications. So far as we can make out, it had hitherto 
been only used (again, after the example of the law-courts) 
for the purpose of detecting error or intentional deceit. He 
made it an instrument for introducing his own convictions 
into the minds of others, but so that his interlocutors seemed 
to be discovering them for themselves, and were certainly 
learning how, in their turn, to practise the same didactic 
interrogation on a future occasion. And he also used it for the 
purpose of logical self-discipline in a manner which will be 


presently explained. Of course, Socrates also employed the 
erotetic method as a means of confutation, and, in his hands, 
it powerfully illustrated what we have called the negative 
moment of Greek thought. To prepare the ground for new 
truth it was necessary to clear away the misconceptions 
which were likely to interfere with its admission ; or, il 
Socrates himself had nothing to impart, he could at any rate 
purge away the false conceit of knowledge from unformed 
minds, and hold them back from attempting difficult tasks 
until they were properly qualified for the undertaking. For 
example, a certain Glauco, a brother of Plato, had attempted 
to address the public assembly, when he was not yet twenty 
years of age, and was naturally quite unfitted for the task. 
At Athens, where every citizen had a voice in his country's 
affairs, obstruction, whether intentional or not, was very sum- 
marily dealt with. Speakers who had nothing to say that 
was worth hearing were forcibly removed from the bema by 
the police ; and this fate had already more than once befallen 
the youthful orator, much to the annoyance of his friends, who 
could not prevail on him to refrain from repeating the experi- 
ment, when Socrates took the matter in hand. One or two 
adroit compliments on his ambition drew Glauco into a conver- 
sation with the veteran dialectician on the aims and duties of 
a statesman. It was agreed that his first object should be to 
benefit the country, and that a good way of achieving this 
end would be to increase its wealth, which, again, could be 
done either by augmenting the receipts or by diminishing 
the expenditure. Could Glauco tell what was the present 
revenue of Athens, and whence it was derived } — No ; he 
had not studied that question,— Well then, perhaps, he had 
some useful retrenchments to propose. — No; he had not 
studied that either. But the State might, he thought, be en- 
riched at the expense of its enemies. — A good idea, if we can 
be sure of beating them first ! Only, to avoid the risk of 
attacking somebody who is stronger than ourselves, we must 


know what are the enemy's military resources as compared 
with our own. To begin with the latter : Can Glauco tell 
how many ships and soldiers Athens has at her disposal ? — 
No, he does not at this moment remember. — Then, perhaps, 
he has it all written down somewhere .'' — He must confess 
not. So the conversation goes on until Socrates has con- 
victed his ambitious young friend of possessing no accurate 
information whatever about political questions.^ 

Xenophon has recorded another dialogue in which a young 
man named Euthydemus, who was also in training for a 
statesman, and who, as he supposed, had learned a great 
deal more out of books than Socrates could teach him, is 
brought to see how little he knows about ethical science. He 
is asked, Can a man be a good citizen without being just } 
No, he cannot. — Can Euthydemus tell what acts are just "i 
Yes, certainly, and also what are unjust. — Under which head 
does he put such actions as lying, deceiving, harming, 
enslaving } — Under the head of injustice. — But suppose a 
hostile people are treated in the various manners specified, is 
that unjust i* — No, but it was understood that only one's 
friends were meant. — Well, if a general encourages his own 
army by false statements, or a father deceives his child into 
taking medicine, or your friend seems likely to commit 
suicide, and you purloin a deadly weapon from him, is that 
unjust .'' — No, we must add 'for the purpose of harming ' to 
our definition. Socrates, however, does not stop here, but 
goes on cross-examining until the unhappy student is reduced 
to a state of hopeless bewilderment and shame. He is then 
brought to perceive the necessity of self-knowledge, which is 
explained to mean knowledge of one's own powers. As a 
further exercise Euthydemus is put through his facings on the 
subject of good and evil. Health, wealth, strength, wisdom 
and beauty are mentioned as unquestionable goods. Socrates 
shows, in the style long afterwards imitated by Juvenal, that 

' Mem., III., vi. 


they are only means towards an end, and may be productive 
of harm no less than good, — Happiness at any rate is an un- 
questionable good. — Yes, unless we make it consist of 
questionable goods like those just enumerated,' 

It is in this last conversation that the historical Socrates 
most nearly resembles the Socrates of Plato's Apologia. 
Instead, however, of leaving Euthydemus to the consciousness 
of his ignorance, as the latter would have done, he proceeds, 
in Xenophon's account, to direct the young man's studies 
according to the simplest and clearest principles ; and we have 
another conversation where religious truths are instilled by 
the same catechetical process.^ Here the erotetic method is 
evidently a mere didactic artifice, and Socrates could easily 
have written out his lesson under the form of a regular 
demonstration. But there is little doubt that in other cases 
he used it as a means for giving increased precision to his own 
ideas, and also for testing their validity, that, in a word, the 
habit of oral communication gave him a familiarity with logi- 
cal processes which could not otherwise have been acquired. 
The same cross-examination that acted as a spur on the mind 
of the respondent, reacted as a bridle on the mind of the 
interrogator, obliging him to make sure beforehand of every 
assertion that he put forward, to study the mutual bearings 
of his beliefs, to analyse them into their component elements, 
and to examine the relation in which they collectively stood 
to the opinions generally accepted. It has already been 
stated that Socrates gave the erotetic method two new 
applications; we now see in what direction they tended. 
He made it a vehicle for positive instruction, and he also 
made it an instrument for self-discipline, a help to fulfilling 
the Delphic precept, ' Know thyself The second application 
was even more important than the first. With us literary, 
training — that is, the practice of continuous reading and com- 
position — is so widely diffused, that conversation has become 

' Aleni., IV., ii. * Mciu., IV., iii. 


rather a hindrance than a help to the cultivation of argumen- 
tative ability. The reverse was true when Socrates lived. 
Long familiarity with debate was unfavourable to the art of 
writing ; and the speeches in Thucydides show how difficult 
it was still found to present close reasoning under the form of 
an uninterrupted exposition. The traditions of conversational 
thrust and parry survived in rhetorical prose ; and the crossed 
swords of tongue-fence were represented by the bristling 
clievaux de frise of a laboured antithetical arrangement where 
every clause received new strength and point from contrast 
with its opposing neighbour. 

By combining the various considerations here suggested 
we shall arrive at a clearer understanding of the sceptical 
attitude commonly attributed to Socrates. There is, first of 
all, the negative and critical function exercised by him in 
common with many other constructive thinkers, and inti- 
mately associated with a fundamental law of Greek thought. 
Then there is the Attic courtesy and democratic spirit 
leading him to avoid any assumption of superiority over those 
whose opinions he is examining. And, lastly, there is the 
profound feeling that truth is a common possession, which no 
individual can appropriate as his peculiar privilege, because it 
can only be discovered, tested, and preserved by the united 
efforts of all. 


Thus, then, the Socratic dialogue has a double aspect. It is, 
like all philosophy, a perpetual carrying of life into ideas and 
of ideas into life. Life is raised to a higher level by thought ; 
thought, when brought into contact with life, gains movement 
and growth, assimilative and reproductive power. If action is 
to be harmonised, we must regulate it by universal principles ; 
if our principles are to be efficacious, they must be adopted ; 
if they are to be adopted, we must demonstrate them to the 
satisfaction of our contemporaries. Language, consisting as 


it does almost entirely of abstract terms, furnishes the mate- 
rials out of which alone such an ideal union can be framed. 
But men do not always use the same words, least of all if they 
are abstract words, in the same sense, and therefore a prelimi- 
nary agreement must be arrived at in this respect ; a fact 
which Socrates was the first to recognise. Aristotle tells us 
that he introduced the custom of constructing general defini- 
tions into philosophy. The need of accurate verbal explana- 
tions is more felt in the discussion of ethical problems than 
anywhere else, if we take ethics in the only sense that 
Socrates would have accepted, as covering the whole field of 
mental activity. It is true that definitions are also employed 
in the mathematical and physical sciences, but there they are 
accompanied by illustrations borrowed from sensible experi- 
ence, and would be unintelligible without them. Hence it has 
been possible for those branches of knowledge to make enor- 
mous progress, while the elementary notions on which they 
rest have not yet been satisfactorily analysed. The case is 
entirely altered when mental dispositions have to be taken into 
account. Here, abstract terms play much the same part as 
sensible intuitions elsewhere in steadying our conceptions, but 
without possessing the same invariable value ; the experiences 
from which those conceptions are derived being exceedingly 
complex, and, what is more, exceedingly liable to disturbance 
from unforeseen circumstances. Thus, by neglecting a series 
of minute changes the same name may come to denote groups 
of phenomena not agreeing in the qualities which alone it origi- 
nally connoted. More than one example of such a gradual 
metamorphosis has already presented itself in the course of our 
investigation, and others will occur in the sequel. Where dis- 
tinctions of right and wrong are involved, it is of enormous prac- 
tical importance that a definite meaning should be attached to 
words, and that they should not be allowed, at least without 
express agreement, to depart from the recognised acceptation : 
for such words, connoting as they do the approval or disap- 


proval of mankind, exercise a powerful influence on conduct, 
so that their misapplication may lead to disastrous conse- 
quences. Where government by written law prevails the 
importance of defining ethical terms immediately becomes 
obvious, for, otherwise, personal rule would be restored under 
the disguise of judicial interpretation. Roman jurisprudence 
was the first attempt on a great scale to introduce a rigorous 
system of definitions into legislation. We have seen, in the 
preceding chapter, how it tended to put the conclusions of 
Greek naturalistic philosophy into practical shape. We now 
see how, on the formal side, its determinations are connected 
with the principles of Socrates. And we shall not under- 
value this obligation if we bear in mind that the accurate 
wording of legal enactments is not less important than the 
essential justice of their contents. Similarly, the develop- 
ment of Catholic theology required that its fundamental con- 
ceptions should be progressively defined. This alone preserved 
the intellectual character of Catholicism in ages of ignorance 
and superstition, and helped to keep alive the reason by which 
superstition was eventually overthrown. Mommsen has called 
theology the bastard child of Religion and Science. It is 
something that, in the absence of the robuster parent, its 
features should be recalled and its tradition maintained even 
by an illegitimate offspring. 

So far, we have spoken as if the Socratic definitions were 
merely verbal ; they were, however, a great deal more, and 
their author did not accurately discriminate between what at 
that stage of thought could not well be kept apart — explana- 
tions of words, practical reforms, and scientific generalisations. 
For example, in defining a ruler to be one who knew more 
than other men, he was departing from the common usages of 
language, and showing not what was, but what ought to be 
true.' And in defining virtue as wisdom, he was putting 
forward a new theory of his own, instead of formulating the 
' 3Ie/n., III., ix., lo. 


received connotation of a term. Still, after making every 
deduction, we cannot fail to perceive what an immense service 
was rendered to exact thought by introducing definitions of 
every kind into that department of enquiry where they were 
chiefly needed. We may observe also that a general law of 
Greek intelligence was here realising itself in a new direction. 
The need of accurate determination had always been felt, but 
hitherto it had worked under the more elementary forms of 
time, space, and causality, or, to employ the higher generalisa- 
tion of modern psychology, under the form of contiguous 
association. The earlier cosmologies were all processes of cir- 
cumscription ; they were attempts to fix the limits of the 
universe, and, accordingly, that element which was supposed to 
surround the others was also conceived as their producing 
cause, or else (in the theory of Heracleitus) as typifying the 
rationale of their continuous transformation. For this reason 
Parmenides, when he identified existence with extension, found 
himself obliged to declare that extension was necessarily 
limited. Of all the physical thinkers, Anaxagoras, who imme- 
diately precedes Socrates, approaches, on the objective side, 
most nearly to his standpoint. For the governing Nous brings 
order out of chaos by segregating the confused elements, by 
separating the unlike and drawing the like together, which is 
precisely what definition does for our conceptions. Meanwhile 
Greek literature had been performing the same task in a more 
restricted province, first fixing events according to their 
geographical and historical positions, then assigning to each 
its proper cause, then, as Thucydides does, isolating the most 
important groups of events from their external connexions, 
and analysing the causes of complex changes into different 
classes of antecedents. The final revolution effected by 
Socrates was to substitute arrangement by difference and 
resemblance for arrangement by contiguity in coexistence 
and succession. To say that by so. doing he created science 
is inexact, for science requires to consider nature under every 



aspect, including those which he systematically neglected ; 
but we may say that he introduced the method which is most 
particularly applicable to mental phenomena, the method of 
ideal analysis, classification, and reasoning. For, be it 
observed that Socrates did not limit himself to searching for 
the One in the Many, he also, and perhaps more habitually, 
sought for the Many in the One. He would take hold of a 
conception and analyse it into its various notes, laying them, 
as it were, piecemeal before his interlocutor for separate 
acceptance or rejection. If, for example, they could not 
agree about the relative merits of two citizens, Socrates would 
decompose the character of a good citizen into its component 
parts and bring the comparison down to them. A good 
citizen, he would say, increases the national resources by his 
administration of the finances, defeats the enemy abroad, 
wins allies by his diplomacy, appeases dissension by his 
eloquence at home.' When the shy and gifted Charmides 
shrank from addressing a public audience on public questions, 
Socrates strove to overcome his nervousness by mercilessly 
subdividing the august Ecclesia into its constituent classes. 
' Is it the fullers that you are afraid oil ' he asked, ' or the 
leather-cutters, or the masons, or the smiths, or the husband- 
men, or the traders, or the lowest class of hucksters } ' ^ Here 
the analytical power of Greek thought is manifested with still 
more searching effect than when it was applied to space and 
motion by Zeno. 

Nor did Socrates only consider the whole conception in 
relation to its parts, he also grouped conceptions together 
according to their genera and founded logical classification. 
To appreciate the bearing of this idea on human interests it 
will be enough to study the disposition of a code. We shall 

' Mem., IV., vi., 14. 

^ Xenophon, Mem,, III., vii. We may incidentally notice that this passage is 
well worth the attention of those who look on the Athenian Demos as an idle 
and aristocractic body, supported by slave labour. 


then see how much more easy it becomes to bring individual 
cases under a general rule, and to retain the whole body of 
rules in our memory, when we can pass step by step from the 
most universal to. the most particular categories. Now, it 
was by jurists versed in the Stoic philosophy that Roman law 
was codified, and it was by Stoicism that the traditions of 
Socratic philosophy were most faithfully preserved. 

Logical division is, however, a process not fully repre- 
sented by any fixed and formal distribution of topics, nor yet 
is it equivalent to the arrangement of genera and species 
according to their natural affinities, as in the admirable 
systems of Jussieu and Cuvier. It is something much more 
flexible and subtle, a carrying down into the minutest detail, 
of that psychological law which requires, as a condition of 
perfect consciousness, that feelings, conceptions, judgments, 
and, generally speaking, all mental modes should be appre- 
hended together with their contradictory opposites. Hera- 
cleitus had a dim perception of this truth when he taught the 
identity of antithetical couples, and it is more or less vividly 
illustrated by all Greek classic literature after him ; but 
Socrates seems to have been the first who transformed it from 
a law of existence into a law of cognition ; with him know- 
ledge and ignorance, reason and passion, freedom and slavery, 
virtue, and vice, right and wrong (ttoWmv ovo/jLutcov fjt'0p(f)r) 
fiCa) were apprehended in inseparable connexion, and were 
employed for mutual elucidation, not only in broad masses, 
but also through their last subdivisions, like the delicate 
adjustments of light and shade on a Venetian canvas. This 
method of classification by graduated descent and symmetri- 
cal contrast, like the whole dialectic system of which it forms 
a branch, is only suited to the mental phenomena for which 
it was originally devised ; and Hegel conimitted a fatal error 
when he applied it to explain the order of external coexist- 
ence and succession. We have already touched on the 
essentially subjective character of the Socratic definition, and 

L 2 


we shall presently have to make a similar restriction in 
dealing with Socratic induction. With regard to the question 
last considered, our limits will not permit us, nor, indeed, does 
it fall within the scope of our present study, to pursue a vein 
of reflection which was never fully worked out either by the 
Athenian philosophers or by their modern successors, at least 
not in its only legitimate direction. 

After definition and division comes reasoning. We arrange 
objects in classes, that by knowing one or some we may know 
all. Aristotle attributes to Socrates the first systematic 
employment of induction as well as of general definitions.' 
Nevertheless, his method was not solely inductive, nor did it 
bear more than a distant resemblance to the induction of 
modern science. His principles were not gathered from the 
particular classes of phenomena which they determined, or 
were intended to determine, but from others of an analogous 
character which had already been reduced to order. Observ- 
ing that all handicrafts were practised according to well-defined 
intelligible rules, leading, so far as they went, to satisfactory 
results, he required that life in its entirety should be similarly 
systematised. This was not so much reasoning as a demand 
for the more extended application of reasoning. It was a 
truly philosophic postulate, for philosophy is not science, but 
precedes and underlies it. Belief and action tend to divide 
themselves into two provinces, of which the one is more or 
less organised, the other more or less chaotic. We philoso- 
phise when we try to bring the one into order, and also when 
we test the foundations on which the order of the other re- 
poses, fighting both against incoherent mysticism and against 
traditional routine. Such is the purpose that the most dis- 
tinguished thinkers of modern times — Francis Bacon, Spinoza, 
Hume, Kant, Auguste Comte, and Herbert Spencer — however 
widely they may otherwise differ, have, according to their re- 
spective lights, all set themselves to achieve. No doubt, there is 
' Metaph., XIII., iv. • . 


this vast difference between Socrates and his most recent suc- 
cessors, that physical science is the great type of certainty to 
the level of which they would raise all speculation, while with 
him it was the type of a delusion and an impossibility. The 
analogy of artistic production when applied to Nature led him 
off on a completely false track, the ascription to conscious 
design of that which is, in truth, a result of mechanical causa- 
tion.' But now that the relations between the known and 
the unknown have been completely transformed, there is no 
excuse for repeating the fallacies which imposed on his vigor- 
ous understanding ; and the genuine spirit of Socrates is best 
represented by those who, starting like him from the data of 
experience, are led to adopt a diametrically opposite conclu- 
sion. We may add, that the Socratic method of analogical 
reasoning gave a retrospective justification to early Greek 
thought, of which Socrates was not himself aware. Its daring 
generalisations were really an inference from the known to the 
unknown. To interpret all physical processes in terms of 
matter and motion, is only assuming that the changes to which 
our senses cannot penetrate are homogeneous with the changes 
which we can feel and see. When Socrates argued that, 
because the human body is animated by a consciousness, the 
material universe must be similarly animated, Democritus 
might have answered that the world presents no appearance 
of being organised like an animal. When he argued that, 
because statues and pictures are known to be the work of in- 
telligence, the living models from which they are copied must 
be similarly due to design, Aristodemus should have answered, 
that the former are seen to be manufactured, while the others 
are seen to grow. It might also have been observed, that if 
our own intelligence requires to be accounted for by a cause 
like itself, so also does the creative cause, and so on through 
an infinite regress of antecedents. Teleology has been de- 
stroyed by the Darwinian theory ; but before the Origin of 

' Mem., I., iv. 


Species appeared, the slightest scrutiny might have shown 
that it was a precarious foundation for religious belief. If 
many thoughtful men are now turning away from theism, 
' natural theology ' may be thanked for the desertion. ' I 
believe in God,' says the German baron in Thorndale, ' until 
your philosophers demonstrate His existence.' 'And then.?' 
asks a friend. ' And then — I do not believe the demonstra- 

Whatever may have been the errors into which Socrates 
fell, he did not commit the fatal mistake of compromising his 
ethical doctrine by associating it indissolubly with his meta- 
physical opinions. Religion, with him, instead of being the 
source and sanction of all duty, simply brought in an additional 
duty — that of gratitude to the gods for their goodness. We 
shall presently see where he sought for the ultimate foundation 
of morality, after completing our survey of the dialectic 
method with which it was so closely connected. The induction 
of Socrates, when it went beyond that kind of analogical 
reasoning which we have just been considering, was mainly 
abstraction, the process by which he obtained those general 
conceptions or definitions which played so great a part in his 
philosophy. Thus, on comparing the different virtues, as 
commonly distinguished, he found that they all agreed in 
requiring knowledge, which he accordingly concluded to be 
the essence of virtue. So other moralists have been led to 
conclude that right actions resemble one another in their 
felicific quality, and in that alone. Similarly, political econo- 
mists find, or formerly found (for we do not wish to be positive 
on the matter), that a common characteristic of all industrial 
employments is the desire to secure the maximum of profit 
with the minimum of trouble. Another comparison shows 
that value depends on the relation between supply and 
demand. Aesthetic enjoyments of every kind resemble one 
another by including an element of ideal emotion. It is 
a common characteristic of all cognitions that they are 


constructed by association out of elementary feelings. All 
societies are marked by a more or less developed division of 
labour. These are given as typical generalisations which have 
been reached by the Socratic method. They are all taken 
from the philosophic sciences — that is, the sciences dealing 
with phenomena which are partly determined by mind, and 
the systematic treatment of which is so similar that they are 
frequently studied in combination by a single thinker, and 
invariably so by the greatest thinkers of any. But were we 
to examine the history of the physical sciences, we should 
find that this method of wide comparison and rapid abstrac- 
tion cannot, as Francis Bacon imagined, be successfully 
applied to them. The facts with which they deal are not 
transparent, not directly penetrable by thought ; hence they 
must be treated deductively. Instead of a front attack, we 
must, so to speak, take them in the rear. Bacon never made 
a more unfortunate observation than when he said that the 
syllogism falls far short of the subtlety of Nature. Nature is 
even simpler than the syllogism, for she accomplishes her 
results by advancing from equation to equation. That which 
really does fall far short of her subtlety is precisely the 
Baconian induction with its superficial comparison of instances. 
No amount of observation could detect any resemblance 
between the bursting of a thunderstorm and the attraction of a 
loadstone, or between the burning of charcoal and the rusting 
a nail. 

But while philosophers cannot prescribe a method to 
physical science, they may, to a certain extent, bring it under 
their cognisance, by disengaging its fundamental conceptions 
and assumptions, and showing that they are functions of 
mind ; by arranging the special sciences in systematic order 
for purposes of study ; and by investigating the law of their 
historical evolution. Furthermore, since psychology is the 
central science of philosophy, and since it is closely connected 
with physiology, which in turn reposes on the inorganic 


sciences, a certain knowledge of the objective world is indis- 
pensable to any knowledge of ourselves. Lastly, since the 
subjective sphere not only rests, once for all, on the objective, 
but is also in a continual state of action and reaction with it, 
no philosophy can be complete which does not take into 
account the c-onstitution of things as they exist independently 
of ourselves, in order to ascertain how far they are unalterable, 
and how far they may be modified to our advantage. We 
see, then, that Socrates, in restricting philosophy to human 
interests, was guided by a just tact ; that in creating the 
method of dialectic abstraction, he created an instrument 
adequate to this investigation, but to this alone ; and, finally, 
that human interests, understood in the largest sense, embrace 
a number of subsidiary studies which either did not exist 
when he taught, or which the inevitable superstitions of his 
age would not allow him to pursue. 

It remains to glance at another aspect of the dialectic 
method first developed on a great scale by Plato, and first 
fully defined by Aristotle, but already playing a certain part 
in the Socratic teaching. This is the testing of common 
assumptions by pushing them to their logical conclusion, and 
rejecting those which lead to consequences inconsistent with 
themselves. So understood, dialectic means the complete 
elimination of inconsistency, and has ever since remained the 
most powerful weapon of philosophical criticism. To take an 
instance near at hand, it is constantly employed by thinkers 
s© r^ically different as Mr. Herbert Spencer and Professor 
T. H, Green ; while it has been generalised into an objective 
law of Nature and history, with dazzling though only moment- 
ary success, by Hegel and his school. 


Consistency is, indeed, the one word which, better than 
any other, expresses the whole character of Socrates, and the 
whole of philosophy as well. Here the supreme conception 


of mind reappears under its most rigorous, but, at the same 
time, its most beneficent aspect. It is the temperance which 
no allurement can surprise ; the fortitude which no terror can 
break through ; the justice which eliminates all personal con- 
siderations, egoistic and altruistic alike ; the truthfulness 
which, with exactest harmony, fits words to meanings, mean- 
ings to thoughts, and thoughts to things ; the logic which will 
tolerate no self-contradiction ; the conviction which seeks for 
no acceptance unwon by reason ; the liberalism which works 
through free agencies for freedom ; the love which wills 
another's good for that other's sake alone.' It was the intellec- 
tual passion for consistency which made Socrates so great and 
which fused his life into a flawless whole ; but it was an un- 
conscious motive power, and therefore he attributed to mere 
knowledge what knowledge alone could not supply. A clear 
perception of right cannot by itself secure the obedience of 
our will. High principles are not of any value, except to 
those in whom a discrepancy between practice and profession 
produces the sharpest anguish of which their nature is capable ; 
a feeling like, though immeasurably stronger than, that which 
women of exquisite sensibility experience when they see a 
candle set crooked or a table-cover awry. How moral laws 
have come to be established, and why they prescribe or pro- 
hibit certain classes of actions, are questions which still divide 
the schools, though with an increasing consensus of authority 
on the utilitarian side : their ultimate sanction — that which, 
whatever they are, makes obedience to them truly moral — can 
hardly be sought elsewhere than in the same consciousness of 
logical stringency that determines, or should determine, our 
abstract beliefs. 

Be this as it may, we venture to hope that a principle has 

' ' II salt que, dans I'interet meme du bien, il ne faut pas imposer le bien d'une 
maniere trop absolue, le jeu libre de la liberie etant la condition de la vie hu- 

maine poursuite en toutes choses du bien public, non des applaudisse- 

ments. ' — Renan, Marc-Aurele, pp. iS, 19. 


been here suggested deep and strong enough to reunite the 
two halves into which historians have hitherto divided the 
Socratic system, or, rather, the beginning of that universal 
systematisation called philosophy, which is not yet, and 
perhaps never will be, completed ; a principle which is out- 
wardly revealed in the character of the philosopher himself. 
With such an one, ethics and dialectics become almost indis- 
tinguishable through the intermixture of their processes and 
the parallelism of their aims. Integrity of conviction enters, 
both as a means and as an element, into perfect integrity of 
conduct, nor can it be maintained where any other element of 
rectitude is wanting. Clearness, consecutiveness, and co- 
herence are the morality of belief ; while temperance, justice, 
and beneficence, taken in their widest sense and taken 
together, constitute the supreme logic of life. 

It has already been observed that the thoughts of Socrates 
were thrown into shape for and by communication, that they 
only became definite when brought into vivifying contact with 
another intelligence. Such was especially the case with his 
method of ethical dialectic. Instead of tendering his advice 
in the form of a lecture, as other moralists have at all times 
been so fond of doing, he sought out some pre-existing senti- 
ment or opinion inconsistent with the conduct of which he 
disapproved, and then gradually worked round from point to 
point, until theory and practice were exhibited in immediate 
contrast. Here, his reasoning, which is sometimes spoken of 
as exclusively inductive, was strictly syllogistic, being the 
application of a general law to a particular instance. With 
the growing emancipation of reason, we may observe a return 
to the Socratic method of moralisation. Instead of rewards 
and punishments, which encourage selfish calculation, or 
examples, which stimulate a mischievous jealousy when they 
do not create a spirit of servile imitation, the judicious trainer 
will find his motive power in the pupil's incipient tendency 
to form moral judgments, which, when reflected on the 


individual's own actions, become what we call a conscience. 
It has been mentioned in the preceding chapter that the 
celebrated golden rule of justice was already enunciated by- 
Greek moralists in the fourth century B.C. Possibly it may 
have been first formulated by Socrates. In all cases it occurs 
in the writings of his disciples, and happily expresses the 
drift of his entire philosophy. This generalising tendency 
was, indeed, so natural to a noble Greek, that instances of it 
occur long before philosophy began. We find it in the 
famous question of Achilles : ' Did not this whole war begin 
on account of a woman .-' Are the Atreidae the only men 
who love their wives } ' ^ and in the now not less famous 
apostrophe to Lycaon, reminding him that an early death is 
the lot of far worthier men than he ^ — utterances which come 
on us with the awful effect of lightning flashes, that illuminate 
the whole horizon of existence while they paralyse or destroy 
an individual victim. 

The power which Socrates possessed of rousing other 
minds to independent activity and apostolic transmission of 
spiritual gifts was, as we have said, the second verification of 
his doctrine. Even those who, like Antisthenes and Aris- 
tippus, derived their positive theories from the Sophists rather 
than from him, preferred to be regarded as his followers ; and 
Plato, from whom his ideas received their most splendid 
development, has acknowledged the debt by making that 
venerated figure the centre of his own immortal Dialogues, 
A third verification is given by the subjective, practical, 
dialectic tendency of all subsequent philosophy properly so 
called. On this point we will content ourselves with men- 
tioning one instance out of many, the recent declaration of 
Mr. Herbert Spencer that his whole system was constructed 
for the sake of its ethical conclusion.^ 

Apart, however, from abstract speculation, the ideal 

' //., IX., 337. " lb., XXL, 106. 

' In the preface to the Data of Ethics. 


method seems to have exercised an immediate and powerful 
influence on Art, an influence which was anticipated by- 
Socrates himself. In two conversations reported by Xeno- 
phon,' he impresses on Parrhasius, the painter, and Cleito, the 
sculptor, the importance of so animating the faces and figures 
which they represented as to make them express human 
feelings, energies, and dispositions, particularly those of the 
most interesting and elevated type. And such, in fact, was 
the direction followed by imitative art after Pheidias, though 
not without degenerating into a sensationalism which Socrates 
would have severely condemned. Another and still more 
remarkable proof of the influence exercised on plastic repre- 
sentation by ideal philosophy was, perhaps, not foreseen 
by its founder. We allude to the substitution of abstract and 
generic for historical subjects by Greek sculpture in its later 
stages, and not by sculpture only, but by dramatic poetry as 
well. For early art, whether it addressed itself to the eye or 
to the imagination, and whether its subjects were taken from 
history or from fiction, had always been historical in this 
sense, that it exhibited the performance of particular actions 
by particular persons in a given place and at a given time ; 
the mode of presentment most natural to those whose ideas 
are mainly determined by contiguous association. The schools 
which came after Socrates let fall the limitations of concrete 
reality, and found the unifying principle of their works in 
association by resemblance, making their figures the personifi- 
cation of a single attribute or group of attributes, and bringing 
together forms distinguished by the community of their charac- 
teristics or the convergence of their functions. Thus Aphrodite 
no longer figured as the lover of Ares or Anchises, but as 
the personification of female beauty ; while her statues were 
grouped together with images of the still more transparent 
abstractions, Love, Longing, and Desire. Similarly Apollo 
became a personification of musical enthusiasm, and Dionysus 

' Mem., III., X. 


of Bacchic inspiration. So also dramatic art, once completely 
historical, even with Aristophanes, now chose for its subjects 
such constantly-recurring types as the ardent lover, the stern 
father, the artful slave, the boastful soldier, and the fawning 

Nor was this all. Thought, after having, as it would seem, 
wandered away from reality in search of empty abstractions, 
by the help of those very abstractions regained possession of 
concrete existence, and acquired a far fuller intelligence of its 
complex manifestations. For, each individual character is an 
assemblage of qualities, and can only be understood when 
those qualities, after having been separately studied, are 
finally recombined. Thus, biography is a very late production 
of literature, and although biographies are the favourite read- 
ing of those who most despise philosophy, they could never 
have been written without its help. Moreover, before charac- 
ters can be described they must exist. Now, it is partly 
philosophy which calls character into existence by sedulous 
inculcation of self-knowledge and self-culture, by consolidat- 
ing a man's individuality into something independent of cir- 
cumstances, so that it comes to form, not a figure in bas-relief, 
but what sculptors call a figure in the round. Such was 
Socrates himself, and such were the figures which he taught 
Xenophon and Plato to recognise and portray. Character- 
drawing begins with them, and the Memorabilia in particular 
is the earliest attempt at a biographical analysis that we 
possess. From this to Plutarch's Lives there was still a long 
journey to be accomplished, but the interval between them is 
less considerable than that which divides Xenophon from his 
immediate predecessor, Thucydides. And when we remember 
how intimately the substance of Christian teaching is connected 
with the literary form of its first record, we shall still better 
appreciate the all-penetrating influence of Hellenic thought, 

' Curtius, Gricchische Geschichte, III., 526-30 (3rd ed,), where, however, the 
revolution in art is attributed to the influence of the Sophists. 


vying, as it does, with the forces of nature in subtlety and 
universal diffusion. 

Besides transforming art and literature, the dialectic 
method helped to revolutionise social life, and the impulse 
communicated in this direction is still very far from being 
exhausted. We allude to its influence on female education. 
The intellectual blossoming of Athens was aided, in its first 
development, by a complete separation of the sexes. There 
were very few of his friends to whom an Athenian gentleman 
talked so little as to his wife.^ Colonel Mure aptly compares 
her position to that of an English housekeeper, with consider- 
ably less liberty than is enjoyed by the latter. Yet the union 
of tender admiration with the need for intelligent sympathy 
and the desire to awaken interest in noble pursuits existed at 
Athens in full force, and created a field for its exercise. 
Wilhelm von Humboldt has observed that at this time chival- 
rous love was kept alive by customs which, to us, are intensely 
repellent. That so valuable a sentiment should be preserved 
and diverted into a more legitimate channel was an object of 
the highest importance. The naturalistic method of ethics 
did much, but it could not do all, for more was required than 
a return to primitive simplicity. Here the method of mind 
stepped in and supplied the deficiency. Reciprocity was the 
soul of dialectic as practised by Socrates, and the dialectic of 
love demands a reciprocity of passion which can only exist 
between the sexes. But in a society where the free intercourse 
of modern Europe was not permitted, the modern sentiment 
could not be reached at a single bound ; and those who sought 
for the conversation of intelligent women had to seek for it 
among aclassofwhich Aspasiawas the highest representative. 
Such women played a great part in later Athenian society ; 
they attended philosophical lectures, furnished heroines to 
the New Comedy, and on the whole gave a healthier tone 
to literature. Their successors, the Delias and Cynthias of 

' Xenoph., Oecono7ii., iii., 12. 


Roman elegiac poetry, called forth strains of exalted affection 
which need nothing but a worthier object to place them on a 
level with the noblest expressions of tenderness that have 
since been heard. Here at least, to understand is to forgive ; 
and we shall be less scandalised than certain critics,' we shall 
even refuse to admit that Socrates fell below the dignity of a 
moralist, when we hear that he once visited a celebrated 
beauty of this class, Theodote by name ; ^ that he engaged 
her in a playful conversation ; and that he taught her to put 
more mind into her profession ; to attract by something 
deeper than personal charms ; to show at least an appearance 
of interest in the welfare of her lovers ; and to stimulate their 
ardour by a studied reserve, granting no favour that had not 
been repeatedly and passionately sought after. 

Xenophon gives the same interest a more edifying direc- 
tion when he enlivens the dry details of his Cyropaedia with 
touching episodes of conjugal affection, or presents lessons in 
domestic economy under the form of conversations between a 
newly-married couple.^ Plato in some respects transcends, in 
others falls short of his less gifted contemporary. For his 
doctrine of love as an educating process — a true doctrine, all 
sneers and perversions notwithstanding — though readily 
applicable to the relation of the sexes, is not applied to it by 
him ; and his project of a common training for men and 
women, though suggestive of a great advance on the existing 
system if rightly carried out, was, from his point of view, 
a retrograde step towards savage or even animal life, an 
attempt to throw half the burdens incident to a military 
organisation of society on those who had become absolutely 
incapable of bearing them. 

Fortunately, the dialectic method proved stronger than its 
own creators, and, once set going, introduced feelings and ex- 

' Mure, Histoty of Grecian Literature, IV. , 45 1 . 
' Mem., III., xi. ' Oeconom., vii., 4 ff. 


periences of which they had never dreamed, within the 
horizon of philosophic consciousness. It was found that if 
women had much to learn, much also might be learned from 
them. Their wishes could not be taken into account without 
giving a greatly increased prominence in the guidance of 
conduct to such sentiments as fidelity, purity, and pity ; and 
to that extent the religion which they helped to establish has, 
at least in principle, left no room for any further progress. 
On the other hand, it is only by reason that the more 
exclusively feminine impulses can be freed from their 
primitive narrowness and elevated into truly human emotions. 
Love, when left to itself, causes more pain than pleasure, for 
the words of the old idyl still remain true which associate it 
with jealousy as cruel as the grave ; pity, without prevision, 
creates more suffering than it relieves ; and blind fidelity is 
instinctively opposed even to the most beneficent changes. 
We are still suffering from the excessive preponderance which 
Catholicism gave to the ideas of women ; but we need not 
listen to those who tell us that the varied experiences of 
humanity cannot be organised into a rational, consistent, self- 
supporting whole. 

A survey of the Socratic philosophy would be incomplete 
without some comment on an element in the life of Socrates, 
which at first sight seems to lie altogether outside philosophy. 
There is no fact in his history more certain than that he 
believed himself to be constantly accompanied by a Daemo- 
nium, a divine voice often restraining him, even in trifling 
matters, but never prompting to positive action. That it was 
neither conscience in our sense of the word, nor a supposed 
familiar spirit, is now generally admitted. Even those who 
believe in the supernatural origin and authority of our moral 
feelings do not credit them with a power of divining the 
accidentally good or evil consequences which may attend on 
our most trivial and indifferent actions ; while, on the other 
hand, those feelings have a positive no less than a negative 


function, which is exhibited whenever the performance of 
good deeds becomes a duty. That the Daemonium was not 
a personal attendant is proved by the invariable use of an 
indefinite neuter adjective to designate it. How the pheno- 
menon itself should be explained is a question for professional 
pathologists. We have here to account for the interpretation 
put upon it by Socrates, and this, in our judgment, follows 
quite naturally from his characteristic mode of thought 
That the gods should signify their pleasure by visible signs 
and public oracles was an experience familiar to every 
Greek. Socrates, conceiving God as a mind diffused through 
the whole universe, would look for traces of the Divine 
presence in his own mind, and would readily interpret any 
inward suggestion, not otherwise to be accounted for, as a 
manifestation of this all-pervading power. Why it should 
invariably appear under the form of a restraint is less obvious. 
The only explanation seems to be that, as a matter of fact, 
such mysterious feelings, whether the product of unconscious 
experience or not, do habitually operate as deterrents rather 
than as incentives. 


This Daemonium, whatever it may have been, formed 
one of the ostensible grounds on which its possessor was 
prosecuted and condemned to death for impiety. We might 
have spared ourselves the trouble of going over the circum- 
stances connected with that tragical event, had not various 
attempts been made in some well-known works to extenuate 
the significance of a singularly atrocious crime. The case 
stands thus. In the year 399 B.C. Socrates, who was then 
over seventy, and had never in his life been brought before a 
law-court, was indicted on the threefold charge of introducing 
new divinities, of den}'Ing those already recognised by tlie 
State, and of corrupting young men. His principal accuser 
was one Meletus, a poet, supported by Lycon, a rhetorician, 



and by a much more powerful backer, Anytus, a leading 
citizen in the restored democracy. The charge was tried 
before a large popular tribunal, numbering some five hundred 
members. Socrates regarded the whole affair with profound 
indifference. When urged to prepare a defence, he replied, 
with justice, that he had been preparing it his whole life long. 
He could not, indeed, have easily foreseen what line the 
prosecutors would take. Our own information on this point 
is meagre enough, being principally derived from allusions 
made by Xenophon, who was not himself present at the trial. 
There seems, however, no unfairness in concluding that the 
charge of irreligion neither was nor could be substantiated. 
The evidence of Xenophon is quite sufficient to establish the 
unimpeachable orthodoxy of his friend. If it really was 
an offence at Athens to believe in gods unrecognised by the 
State, Socrates was not guilty of that offence, for his Daemo- 
nium was not a new divinity, but a revelation from the 
established divinities, such as individual believers have at 
all times been permitted to receive even by the most jealous 
religious communities. The imputation of infidelity, com- 
monly and indiscriminately brought against all philosophers, 
was a particularly unhappy one to fling at the great opponent 
of physical science, who, besides, was noted for the punctual 
discharge of his religious duties. That the first two counts 
of the indictment should be so frivolous raises a strong 
prejudice against the third. The charges of corruption seem 
to have come under two heads — alleged encouragement of 
disrespect to parents, and of disaffection towards democratic 
institutions. In support of the former some innocent expres- 
sions let fall by Socrates seem to have been taken up and 
cruelly perverted. By way of stimulating his young friends 
to improve their minds, he had observed that relations were 
only of value when they could help one another, and that to 
do so they must be properly educated. This was twisted into 
an assertion that ignorant parents might properly be placed 


under restraint by their better-informed children. That such 
an inference could not have been sanctioned by Socrates 
himself is obvious from his insisting on the respect due even 
to so intolerable a mother as Xanthippe.^ The political 
opinions of the defendant presented a more vulnerable point 
for attack. He thought the custom of choosing magistrates 
by lot absurd, and did not conceal his contempt for it. There 
is, however, no reason for believing that such purely theoreti- 
cal criticisms were forbidden by law or usage at Athens, At 
any rate, much more revolutionary sentiments were tolerated 
on the stage. That Socrates would be no party to a violent 
subversion of the Constitution, and would regard it with high 
disapproval, was abundantly clear both from his life and 
from the whole tenor of his teaching. In opposition to 
Hippias, he defined justice as obedience to the law of the 
land. The chances of the lot had, on one memorable occa- 
sion, called him tp preside over the deliberations of the 
Sovereign Assembly, A proposition was made, contrary to 
law, that the generals who were accused of having abandoned 
the crews of their sunken ships at Arginusae should be tried 
in a single batch. In spite of tremendous popular clamour, 
Socrates refused to put the question to the vote on the single 
day for which his office lasted. The just and resolute man. 
who would not yield to the unrighteous demands of a crowd, 
had shortly afterwards to face the threats of a frowning 
tyrant. When the Thirty were installed in power, he publicly, 
and at the risk of his life, expressed disapproval of their 
sanguinary proceedings. The oligarchy, wishing to involve 
as many respectable citizens as possible in complicity with 
their crimes, sent for five persons, of whom Socrates was one, 
and ordered them to bring a certain Leo from Salamis, that 
he might be put to death ; the others obeyed, but Socrates 
refused to accompany them on their disgraceful errand. 
Nevertheless, it told heavily against the philosopher that 

' Mem,, II., i. 
M 2 


Alcibiades, the most mischievous of demagogues, and CritiaSj 
the most savage of aristocrats, passed for having been edu- 
cated by him. It was remembered, also, that he was in the 
habit of quoting a passage from Homer, where Odysseus is 
described as appeahng to the reason of the chiefs, while he 
brings inferior men to their senses with rough words and 
rougher chastisement. In reality, Socrates did not mean that 
the poor should be treated with brutality by the rich, for he 
would have been the first to suffer had such license been 
permitted, but he meant that where reason failed harsher 
methods of coercion must be applied. Precisely because 
expressions of opinion let fall in private conversation are so 
liable to be misunderstood or purposely perverted, to adduce 
them in support of a capital charge where no overt act can be 
alleged, is the most mischievous form of encroachment on 
individual liberty. 

Modern critics, beginning with Hegel,^ have discovered 
reasons for considering Socrates a dangerous character, which 
apparently did not occur to Meletus and his associates. We 
are told that the whole system of applying dialectics to 
morality had an unsettling tendency, for if men were once 
taught that the sacredness of duty rested on their individual 
conviction they might refuse to be convinced, and act accord- 
ingly. And it is further alleged that Socrates first introduced 
this principle of subjectivity into morals. The persecuting 
spirit is so insatiable that in default of acts it attacks 
opinions, and in default of specific opinions it fastens on 
general tendencies. We know that Joseph de Maistre was 
suspected by his ignorant neighbours of being a Revolutionist 
because most of his time was spent in study ; and but the 
other day a French preacher was sent into exile by his eccle- 
siastical superiors for daring to support Catholic morality 
on rational grounds.'^ Fortunately Greek society was not 

• Gesch. d. Ph., II., lOO ff. 

- Written in the spring of 1880. The alhtsion is to Father Didon. who was at 
that time rusticated in Corsica. 


subject to the rules of the Dominican Order. Never any- 
where in Greece, certainly not at Athens, did there exist that 
solid, all-comprehensive, unquestionable fabric of traditional 
obligation assumed by Hegel ; and Zeller is conceding far 
too much when he defends Socrates, on the sole ground that 
the recognised standards of right had fallen into universal 
contempt during the Peloponnesian war, while admitting that 
he might fairly have been silenced at an earlier period, if 
indeed his teaching could have been conceived as possible 
before it actually began.' For from the first, both in litera- 
ture and in life, Greek thought is distinguished by an ardent 
desire to get to the bottom of every question, and to discover 
arguments of universal applicability for every decision. Even 
in the youth of Pericles knotty ethical problems were eagerly 
discussed without any interference on the part of the public 
authorities. Experience had to prove how far-reaching was 
the effect of ideas before a systematic attempt could be made 
to control them. 

In what terms Socrates replied to his accusers cannot be 
stated with absolute certainty. Reasons have been already 
given for believing that the speech put into his mouth by 
Plato is not entirely historical ; and here we may mention as 
a further reason that the specific charges mentioned by 
Xenophon are not even alluded to in it. Thus much, how- 
ever, is clear, that the defence was of a thoroughly dignified 
character ; and that, while the allegations of the prosecution 
were successfully rebutted, the defendant stood entirely on 
his innocence, and refused to make any of the customary but 
illegal appeals to the compassion of the court. We are 
assured that he was condemned solely on account of this 
defiant attitude, and by a very small majority. Meletus 
had demanded the penalty of death, but by Attic law 
Socrates had the right of proposing some milder sentence as 
an alternative. According to Plato, he began by stating that 

' /•//. d. Gr., II., a, 192. 


the justest return for his entire devotion to the public good 
would be maintenance at the public expense during the 
remainder of his life, an honour usually granted to victors at 
the Olympic games. In default of this he proposed a fine of 
thirty minae, to be raised by contributions among his 
friends. According to another account,' he refused, on the 
ground of his innocence, to name any alternative penalty. On 
a second division Socrates was condemned to death by a 
much larger majority than that which had found him guilty, 
eighty of those who had voted for his acquittal now voting for 
his execution. 

Such was the transaction which some modems, Grote 
among the number, holding Socrates to be one of the best 
and wisest of men, have endeavoured to excuse. Their argu- 
ment is that the illustrious victim was jointly responsible for 
his own fate, and that he was really condemned, not for his 
teaching, but for contempt of court. To us it seems that this 
is a distinction without a difference. What has been so finely 
said of space and time may be said also of the Socratic Hfe 
and the Socratic doctrine ; each was contained entire in 
every point of the other. Such as he appeared to the 
Dicastery, such also he appeared everywhere, always, and 
to all men, offering them the truth, the whole truth, and 
nothing but the truth. If conduct like his was not permis- 
sible in a court of law, then it was not permissible at all ; 
if justice could not be administered without reticences, 
evasions, and disguises, where was sincerity ever to be prac- 
tised } If reason was not to be the paramount arbitress in 
questions of public interest, what issues could ever be 
entrusted to her decision } Admit every extenuating cir- 
cumstance that the utmost ingenuity can devise, and from 
every point of view one fact will come out clearly, that 
Socrates was impeached as a philosopher, that he defended 
himself like a philosopher, and that he was condemned to 

' In the Apologia attributed to Xenophon. 


death because he was a philosopher. Those who attempt to 
remove this stain from the character of the Athenian people 
will find that, like the blood-stain on Bluebeard's key, when 
it is rubbed out on one side it reappears on the other. To 
punish Socrates for his teaching, or for the way in which he 
defended his teaching, was equally persecution, and persecu- 
tion of the worst description, that which attacks not the 
results of free thought but free thought itself We cannot 
then agree with Grote when he says that the condemnation 
of Socrates ' ought to count as one of the least gloomy items 
in an essentially gloomy catalogue.' On the contrary, it is 
the gloomiest of any, because it reveals a depth of hatred for 
pure reason in vulgar minds which might otherwise have re- 
mained unsuspected. There is some excuse for other perse- 
cutors, for Caiaphas, and St. Dominic, and Calvin : for the In- 
quisition, and for the authors of the dragonnades ; for the 
judges of Giordano Bruno, and the judges of Vanini : they 
were striving to exterminate particular opinions, which they 
believed to be both false and pernicious ; there is no such 
excuse for the Athenian dicasts, least of all for those eighty 
who, having pronounced Socrates innocent, sentenced him to 
death because he reasserted his innocence ; if, indeed, inno- 
cence be not too weak a word to describe his life-long battle 
against that very irreligion and corruption which were laid to 
his charge. Here, in this one cause, the great central issue 
between two abstract principles, the principle of authority 
and the principle of reason, was cleared from all adventitious 
circumstances, and disputed on its own intrinsic merits with 
the usual weapons of argument on the one side and brute 
force on the other. On that issue Socrates was finally 
condemned, and on it his judges must be condemned by 

Neither can we admit Grote's further contention, that in 
no Greek city but Athens would Socrates have been per- 
mitted to carry on his cross-examining activity for so long -a 


period. On the contrary, we agree with Colonel Mure,' that in 
no other state would he have been molested. Xenophanes and 
Parmenides, Heracleitus and Democritus, had given utterance 
to far bolder opinions than his, opinions radically destructive 
of Greek religion, apparently without running the slightest 
personal risk ; while Athens had more than once before 
shown the same spirit of fanatical intolerance, though without 
proceeding to such a fatal extreme, thanks, probably, to the 
timely escape of her intended victims. M. Ernest Renan has 
quite recently contrasted the freedom of thought accorded by 
Roman despotism with the narrowness of old Greek Repub- 
licanism, quoting what he calls the Athenian Inquisition as a 
sample of the latter. The word inquisition is not too strong, 
only the lecturer should not have led his audience to believe 
that Greek Republicanism was in this respect fairly repre- 
sented by its most brilliant type, for had such been the case 
very little free thought would have been left for Rome to 

During the month's respite accidentally allowed him, 
Socrates had one more opportunity of displaying that stedfast 
obedience to the law which had been one of his great guiding 
principles through life. The means of escaping from prison 
were offered to him, but he refused to avail himself of them, 
according to Plato, that the implicit contract of loyalty to which 
his citizenship had bound him might be preserved unbroken. 
Nor was death unwelcome to him although it is not true that 
he courted it, any desire to figure as a martyr being quite 
alien from the noble simplicity of his character. But he had 
reached an age when the daily growth in wisdom which for 
him alone made life worth living, seemed likely to be ex- 
changed for a gradual and melancholy decline. That this 
past progress was a good in itself he never doubted, whether 
it was to be continued in other worlds, or succeeded by the 
happiness of an eternal sleep. And we may be sure that he 

' JIht, of Gr. Lit., IV., App. A. 


would have held his own highest good to be equally desirable 
for the whole human race, even with the clear prevision that 
its collective aspirations and efforts cannot be prolonged for 

Two philosophers only can be named who, in modern 
times, have rivalled or approached the moral dignity of 
Socrates. Like him, Spinoza realised his own ideal of a good 
and happy life. Like him, Giordano Bruno, without a hope 
of future recompense, chose death rather than a life unfaithful 
to the highest truth, and death, too, under its most terrible 
form, not the painless extinction by hemlock inflicted in a 
heathen city, but the agonising dissolution intended by Catholic 
love to serve as a foretaste of everlasting fire. Yet with 
neither can the parallel be extended further ; for Spinoza, 
wisely perhaps, refused to face the storms which a public 
profession and propagation of his doctrine would have raised ; 
and the wa}'ward career of Giordano Bruno was not in keeping 
with its heroic end. The complex and distracting conditions 
in which their lot was cast did not permit them to attain that 
statuesque completeness which marked the classic age of Greek 
life and thought. Those times developed a wilder energy, a 
more stubborn endurance, a sweeter purity than any that the 
ancient world had known. But until the scattered elements 
are recombined in a still loftier harmony, our sleepless thirst 
for perfection can be satisfied at one spring alone. Pericles 
must remain the ideal of statesmanship, Pheidias of artistic 
production, and Socrates of philosophic power. 

Before the ideas which we have passed in review could go 
forth on their world-conquering mission, it was necessary, not 
only that Socrates should die, but that his philosophy should 
die also, by being absorbed into the more splendid generalisa- 
tions of Plato's system. That system has, for some time 
past, been made an object of close study in our most famous 
seats of learning, and a certain acquaintance with it has 
almost become part of a liberal education in England. No 


better source of inspiration, combined with discipline, could 
be found ; but we shall understand and appreciate Plato still 
better by first extricating the nucleus round which his specu- 
lations have gathered in successive deposits, and this we can 
only do with the help of Xenophon, whose little work also 
well deserves attention for the sake of its own chaste and 
candid beauty. The relation in which it stands to the 
Platonic writings may be symbolised by an example familiar 
to the experience of every traveller. As sometimes, in visit- 
ing a Gothic cathedral, we are led through the wonders of the 
more modern edifice — under soaring arches, over tesselated 
pavements, and between long rows of clustered columns, past 
frescoed walls, storied windows, carven pulpits, and sepulchral 
monuments, with their endless wealth of mythologic imagery 
— down into the oldest portion of any, the bare stern crypt, 
severe with the simplicity of early art, resting on pillars taken 
from an ancient temple, and enclosing the tomb of some 
martyred saint, to whose glorified spirit an office of perpetual 
intercession before the mercy-seat is assigned, and in whose 
honour all that external magnificence has been piled up ; so 
also we pass through the manifold and marvellous construc- 
tions of Plato's imagination to that austere memorial where 
Xenophon has enshrined with pious care, under the great 
primary divisions of old Hellenic virtue, an authentic reliquary 
of one standing foremost among those who, having worked 
out their own deliverance from the powers of error and evil, 
would not be saved alone, but published the secret of redemp- 
tion though death were the penalty of its disclosure ; and 
who, by their transmitted influence, even more than by their 
eternal example, are still contributing to the progressive 
development of all that is most rational, most consistent, most 
social, and therefore most truly human in ourselves. 





In studying the growth of philosophy as an historical evolu- 
tion, repetitions and anticipations must necessarily be of 
frequent occurrence. Ideas meet us at every step which can 
only be appreciated when we trace out their later develop- 
ments, or only understood when we refer them back to 
earlier and half-forgotten modes of thought. The speculative 
tissue is woven out of filaments so delicate and so complicated 
that it is almost impossible to say where one begins and the 
other ends. Even conceptions which seem to have been 
transmitted without alteration are constantly acquiring a 
new value according to the connexions into which they enter 
or the circumstances to which they are applied. But if the 
method of evolution, with its two great principles of con- 
tinuity and relativity, substitutes a maze of intricate lines, 
often returning on themselves, for the straight path along 
which progress was once supposed to move, we are more 
than compensated by the new sense of coherence and 
rationality where illusion and extravagance once seemed to 
reign supreme. It teaches us that the dreams of a great 
intellect may be better worth our attention than the waking 
perceptions of ordinary men. Combining fragments of the 
old order with rudimentary outlines of the new, they lay open 
the secret laboratory of spiritual chemistry, and help to bridge 
over the interval separating the most widely contrasted 
phases of life and thought. Moreover, when we have once 
accustomed ourselves to break up past systems of philosophy 


into their component elements, when we see how hetero- 
geneous and ill-cemented were the parts of this and that 
proud edifice once offered as the only possible shelter against 
dangers threatening the very existence of civilisation — we 
shall be prepared for the application of a similar method to 
contemporary systems of equally ambitious pretensions ; 
distinguishing that which is vital, fruitful, original, and pro- 
gressive in their ideal synthesis from that which is of merely 
provisional and temporary value, when it is not the literary 
resuscitation of a dead past, visionary, retrograde, and mis- 
chievously wrong. And we shall also be reminded that the 
most precious ideas have only been shaped, preserved, and 
transmitted through association with earthy and perishable 
ingredients. The function of true criticism is, like Robert 
Browning's Roman jeweller, to turn on them ' the proper 
fiery acid ' of purifying analysis which dissolves away the 
inferior metal and leaves behind the gold ring whereby 
thought and action are inseparably and fruitfully united. 

Such, as it seems to us, is the proper spirit in which we 
should approach the great thinker whose works are to occupy 
us in this and the succeeding chapter. No philosopher has 
ever offered so extended and vulnerable a front to hostile 
criticism. None has so habitually provoked reprisals by his 
own incessant and searching attacks on all existing profes- 
sions, customs, and beliefs. It might even be maintained that 
none has used the weapons of controversy with more un- 
scrupulous zeal. And it might be added that he who dwells 
so much on the importance of consistency has occasionally 
denounced and ridiculed the very principles which he else- 
where upholds as demonstrated truths. It was an easy 
matter for others to complete the work of destruction which 
he had begun. His system seems at first sight to be made 
up of assertions, one more outrageous than another. The 
ascription of an objective concrete separate reality to verbal 
abstractions is assuredly the most astounding paradox ever 


maintained even by a metaphysician. Yet this is the central 
article of Plato's creed. That body is essentially different 
from extension might, one would suppose, have been suffi- 
ciently clear to a mathematician who had the advantage of 
coming after Leucippus and Democritus. Their identity is 
implicitly affirmed in the Timaeiis. That the soul cannot be 
both created and eternal ; that the doctrine of metempsychosis 
is incompatible with the hereditary transmission of mental 
qualities ; that a future immortality equivalent to, and proved 
by the same arguments as, our antenatal existence, would be 
neither a terror to the guilty nor a consolation to the right- 
eous : — are propositions implicitly denied by Plato's psy- 
chology. Passing from theoretical to practical philosophy, 
it might be observed that respect for human life, respect for 
individual property, respect for marriage, and respect for 
truthfulness, are generally numbered among the strongest 
moral obligations, and those the observance of which most 
completely distinguishes civilised from savage man ; while 
infanticide, communism, promiscuity, and the occasional em- 
ployment of deliberate deceit, form part of Plato's scheme for 
the redemption of mankind. We need not do more than 
allude to those Dialogues where the phases and symptoms of 
unnameable passion are delineated with matchless eloquence, 
and apparently with at least as much sympathy as censure. 
Finally, from the standpoint of modern science, it might be 
urged that Plato used all his powerful influence to throw back 
physical speculation into the theological stage ; that he de- 
liberately discredited the doctrine of mechanical causation 
which, for us, is the most important achievement of early Greek 
thought ; that he expatiated on the criminal folly of those 
who held the heavenly bodies to be, what we now know them 
to be, masses of dead matter with no special divinity about 
them ; and that he proposed to punish this and other heresies 
with a severity distinguishable from the fitful fanaticism of his 
native cit}'only by its more disciplined and rigorous application. 


A plain man might find it difficult to understand how 
such extravagances could be deliberately propounded by the 
greatest intellect that Athens ever produced, except on the 
principle, dear to mediocrity, that genius is but little removed 
from madness, and that philosophical genius resembles it 
more nearly than any other. And his surprise would become 
much greater on learning that the best and wisest men of all 
ages have looked up with reverence to Plato ; that thinkers 
of the most opposite schools have resorted to him for instruc - 
tion and stimulation ; that his writings have never been more 
attentively studied than in our own age — an age which has 
witnessed the destruction of so many illusive reputations ; and 
that the foremost of English educators has used all his 
influence to promote the better understanding and apprecia- 
tion of Plato as a prime element in academic culture — an in- 
fluence now extended far beyond the limits of his own 
university through that translation of the Platonic Dialogues 
which is too well known to need any commendation on our 
part, but which we may mention as one of the principal 
authorities used for the present study, together with the work 
of a German scholar, his obligations to whom Prof. Jowett 
has acknowledged with characteristic grace. ^ 

As a set-off against the list of paradoxes cited from Plato, 
it would be easy to quote a still longer list of brilliant con- 
tributions to the cause of truth and right, to strike a balance 
between the two, and to show that there was a preponderance 
on the positive side sufficiently great to justify the favourable 
verdict of posterity. We believe, however, that such a method 
would be as misleading as it is superficial. Neither Plato 
nor any other thinker of the same calibre — if any other there 
be — should be estimated by a simple analysis of his opinions. 
We must go back to the underlying forces of which individual 

' The Dialogues of Plato trajidated into English. By B. Jowett, M. A. 2nd 
ed., 1875. Zeller, Die Philosophic der Griechen. Zwciter Tlieil, erste Abtheilung. 
Plato iiud die allc Academic, 3rd ed., 1875. 


opinions are the resultant and the revelation. Every syste- 
matic synthesis represents certain profound intellectual tend- 
encies, derived partly from previous philosophies, partly from 
the social environment, partly from the thinker's own genius 
and character. Each of such tendencies may be salutary and 
necessary, according to the conditions under which it comes 
into play, and yet two or more of them may form a highly 
unstable and explosive compound. Nevertheless, it is in 
speculative combinations that they are preserved and developed 
with the greatest distinctness, and it is there that we must seek 
for them if we would understand the psychological history of 
our race. And this is why we began by intimating that the 
lines of our investigation may take us back over ground which 
has been already traversed, and forward into regions which 
cannot at present be completely surveyed. 

We have this great advantage in dealing with Plato — that 
his philosophical writings have come down to us entire, while 
the thinlcers who preceded him are known only through 
fragments and second-hand reports. Nor is the difference 
merely accidental. Plato was the creator of speculative 
literature, properly so called : he was the first and also the 
greatest artist that ever clothed abstract thought in language of 
appropriate majesty and splendour ; and it is probably to 
their beauty of form that we owe the preservation of his 
writings. Rather unfortunately, however, along with the 
genuine works of the master, a certain number of pieces have 
been handed down to us under his name, of which some are 
almost universally admitted to be spurious, while the authen- 
ticity of others is a question on which the best scholars are 
still divided. In the absence of any very cogent external 
evidence, an immense amount of industry and learning has 
been expended on this subject, and the arguments employed 
on both sides sometimes make us doubt whether the reason- 
ing powers of philologists are better developed than, accord- 
ing to Plato, were those of mathematicians in his time. The 


two extreme positions are occupied by Grote, who accepts the 
whole Alexandrian canon, and Krohn, who admits nothing but 
the Republic ; ' while much more serious critics, such as 
Schaarschmidt, reject along with a mass of worthless compo- 
sitions several Dialogues almost equal in interest and import- 
ance to those whose authenticity has never been doubted. 
The great historian of Greece seems to have been rather 
undiscriminating both in his scepticism and in his belief ; and 
the exclusive importance which he attributed to contemporary 
testimony, or to what passed for such with him, may have 
unduly biassed his judgment in both directions. As it 
happens, the authority of the canon is much weaker than 
Grote imagined ; but even granting his extreme contention, 
our view of Plato's philosophy would not be seriously affected 
by it, for the pieces which are rejected by all other critics have 
no speculative importance whatever. The case would be far 
different were we to agree with those who impugn the 
genuineness of the Parmenides, the Sophist, the Statesman, 
the PJdlebiLS, and the Lazvs ; for these compositions mark a 
new departure in Platonism amounting to a complete trans- 
formation of its fundamental principles, which indeed is one 
of the reasons why their authenticity has been denied. 
Apart, however, from the numerous evidences of Platonic 
authorship furnished by the Dialogues themselves, as well as 
by the indirect references to them in Aristotle's writings, it 
seems utterly incredible that a thinker scarcely, if at all, 
inferior to the master himself — as the supposed imitator must 
assuredly have been — should have consented to let his 
reasonings pass current under a false name, and that, too, 
the name of one whose teaching he in some respects con- 
troverted ; while there is a further difficulty in assuming that 
his existence could pass unnoticed at a period marked by 
intense literary and philosophical activity. Readers who 

' Kiohn, Dcr PlatoviscJie Stacii, Ilalle 1876. [I know this work only through 
Chiapelli, Delia Intcrp-etazionc pantcistica di Plaione, Florence, 1881.] 


wish for fuller information on the subject will find in Zeller's 
pages a careful and lucid digest of the whole controversy 
leading to a moderately conservative conclusion. Others will 
doubtless be content to accept Prof Jowett's verdict, that 
' on the whole not a sixteenth part of the writings which 
pass under the name of Plato, if we exclude the works 
rejected by the ancients themselves, can be fairly doubted by 
those who are willing to allow that a considerable change and 
growth may have taken place in his philosophy.' ' To which 
we may add that the Platonic dialogues, whether the work 
of one or more hands, and however widely differing among 
themselves, together represent a single phase of thought, and 
are appropriately studied as a connected series. 

We have assumed in our last remark that it is possible to 
discover some sort of chronological order in the Platonic 
Dialogues, and to trace a certain progressive modification in 
the general tenor of their teaching from first to last. But 
here also the positive evidence is very scanty, and a variety 
of conflicting theories have been propounded by eminent 
scholars. Where so much is left to conjecture, the best that 
can be said for any hypothesis is that it explains the facts 
according to known laws of thought. It will be for the 
reader to judge whether our own attempt to trace the gradual 
evolution of Plato's system satisfies this condition. In 
making it we shall take as a basis the arrangement adopted 
by Prof. Jowett, with some reservations hereafter to be 

Before entering on our task, one more difficulty remains 
to be noticed. Plato, although the greatest master of prose 
composition that ever lived, and for his time a remarkably 
voluminous author, cherished a strong dislike for books, and 
even affected to regret that the art of writing had ever been 
invented. A man, he said, might amuse himself by putting 
down his ideas on paper, and might even find written 

' III, 418. 



memoranda useful for private reference, but the only in- 
struction wot th speaking of was conveyed by oral communi- 
cation, wb.ich made it possible for objections unforeseen by 
the teacher to be freely urged and answered.' Such had 
been the method of Socrates, and such was doubtless the 
practice of Plato himself whenever it was possible for him to 
set forth his philosophy by word of mouth. It has been 
supposed, for this reason, that the great writer did not take 
his own books in earnest, and wished them to be regarded as 
no more than the elegant recreations of a leisure hour, while 
his deeper and more serious thoughts were reserved for 
lectures and conversations, of which, beyond a few allusions 
in Aristotle, every record has perished. That such, however, 
was not the case, may be easily shown. In the first place it 
is evident, from the extreme pains taken by Plato to throw 
his philosophical expositions into conversational form, that 
he did not despair of providing a literary substitute for 
spoken dialogue. Secondly, it is a strong confirmation of 
this theory that Aristotle, a personal friend and pupil of 
Plato during many years, should so frequently refer to the 
Dialogues as authoritative evidences of his master's opinions 
on the most important topics. And, lastly, if it can be 
shown that the documents in question do actually embody a 
comprehensive and connected view of life and of the world, 
we shall feel satisfied that the oral teaching of Plato, had it 
been preserved, would not modify in any material degree the 
impression conveyed by his written compositions. 


There is a story that Plato used to thank the gods, in 
what some might consider a rather Pharisaic spirit, for having 
made him a human being instead of a brute, a man instead of 
a woman, and a Greek instead of a barbarian ; but more than 

' Phacdr., p. 274 B {(. 


anything else for having permitted him to be borri in the 
time of Socrates. It will be observed that all these blessings 
tended in one direction, the complete supremacy in his 
character of reason over impulse and sense. To assert, 
extend, and organise that supremacy was the object of his 
whole life. Such, indeed, had been the object of all his 
predecessors, and such, stated generally, has been always and 
everywhere the object of philosophy ; but none had pursued 
it so consciously before, and none has proclaimed it so 
enthusiastically since then. Now, although Plato could not 
have done this without a far wider range of knowledge and 
experience than Socrates had possessed, it was only by 
virtue of the Socratic method that his other gifts and 
acquisitions could be turned to complete account ; while, 
conversely, it was only when brought to bear upon these new 
materials that the full power of the method itself could be 
revealed. To be continually asking and answering questions ; 
to elicit information from everybody on every subject worth 
knowing ; and to elaborate the resulting mass of intellectual 
material into the most convenient form for practical applica- 
tion or for further transmission, was the secret of true wisdom 
with the sage of the market-place and the workshop. But 
the process of dialectic investigation as an end in itself, the 
intense personal interest of conversation with living men and 
women of all classes, the impatience for immediate and visible 
results, had gradually induced Socrates to restrict within far 
too narrow limits the sources whence his ideas were derived 
and the purposes to which they were applied. And the 
dialectic method itself could not but be checked in its internal 
development by this want of breadth and variety in the 
topics submitted to its grasp. Therefore the death of 
Socrates, however lamentable in its occasion, was an un- 
mixed benefit to the cause for which he laboured, by arrest- 
ing (as we must suppose it to have arrested) the popular and 
indiscriminate employment of his cross-examining method, 

N 2 


liberating his ablest disciple from the ascendency of a revered 
master, and inducing him to reconsider the whole question of 
human knowledge and action from a remoter point of view. 
For, be it observed that Plato did not begin where Socrates 
had left off; he went back to the germinal point of the 
whole system, and proceeded to reconstruct it on new lines 
of his own. The loss of those whom we love habitually leads 
our thoughts back to the time of our first acquaintance with 
them, or, if these are ascertainable, to the circumstances of 
their early life. In this manner Plato seems to have been at 
first occupied exclusively with the starting-point of his 
friend's philosophy, and we know, from the narrative given in 
the Apologia, under what form he came to conceive it. We 
have attempted to show that the account alluded to cannot 
be entirely historical. Nevertheless it seems sufficiently 
clear that Socrates began with a conviction of his own 
ignorance, and that his efforts to improve others were 
prefaced by the extraction of a similar confession of ignorance 
on their part. It is also certain that through life he regarded 
the causes of physical phenomena as placed beyond the 
reach of human reason and reserved by the gods for their 
own exclusive cognisance, pointing, by way of proof, to the 
notorious differences of opinion prevalent among those who 
had meddled with such matters. Thus, his scepticism 
worked in two directions, but on the one side it was only 
provisional and on the other it was only partial. Plato began 
by combining the two. He maintained that human nescience 
is universal and necessary ; that the gods had reserved all 
knowledge for themselves ; and that the only wisdom left 
for men is a consciousness of their absolute ignorance. The 
Socratic starting-point gave the centre of his agnostic circle ; 
the Socratic theology gave the distance at which it was 
described. Here we have to note two things — first, the 
breadth of generalisation which distinguishes the disciple 
from the master ; and, secondly, the symptoms of a strong 


religious reaction against Greek humanism. Even before the 
end of the Peloponnesian War, evidence of this reaction had 
appeared, and the Bacchae of Euripides bears striking 
testimony to its gloomy and fanatical character. The last 
agony of Athens, the collapse of her power, and the subse- 
quent period of oligarchic terrorism, must have given a 
stimulus to superstition like that which quite recently 
afflicted France with an epidemic of apparitions and pil- 
grimages almost too childish for belief. Plato followed the 
general movement, although on a much higher plane. 
While looking down with undisguised contempt on the 
immoral idolatry of his countrymen, he was equally opposed 
to the irreligion of the New Learning, and, had an oppor- 
tunity been given him, he would, like the Reformers of the 
sixteenth century, have put down both with impartial 
severity. Nor was this the only analogy between his position 
and that of a Luther or a Calvin. Like them, and indeed 
like all great religious teachers, he exalted the Creator by 
enlarging on the nothingness of the creature ; just as Chris- 
tianity exhibits the holiness of God in contrast and correlation 
with the sinfulness of unregenerate hearts ; just as to Pindar 
man's life seemed but the fleeting shadow in a dream when 
compared with the beauty and strength and immortality of 
the Olympian divinities ; so also did Plato deepen the gloom 
of human ignorance that he might bring out in dazzling 
relief the fulness of that knowledge which he had been 
taught to prize as a supreme ideal, but which, for that very 
reason, seemed proper to the highest existences alone. And 
we shall presently see how Plato also discovered a principle 
in man by virtue of which he could claim kindred with the 
supernatural, and elaborated a scheme of intellectual media- 
tion by which the fallen spirit could be regenerated and made 
a partaker in the kingdom of speculative truth. 

Yet if Plato's theology, from its predominantly rational 
character, seemed to neglect some feelings which were better 


satisfied by the earlier or the later faiths of mankind, we 
cannot say that it really excluded them. The unfading 
strength of the old gods was comprehended in the self- 
existence of absolute ideas, and moral goodness was only a 
particular application of reason to the conduct of life. An 
emotional or imaginative element was also contributed by 
the theory that every faculty exercised without a reasoned 
consciousness of its processes and aims was due to some 
saving grace and inspiration from a superhuman power. It 
was thus, according to Plato, that poets and artists were able 
to produce works of which they were not able to render an 
intelligent account ; and it was thus that society continued to 
hold together with such an exceedingly small amount of 
wisdom and virtue. Here, however, we have to observe a 
marked difference between the religious teachers pure and 
simple, and the Greek philosopher who was a dialectician 
even more than he was a divine. For Plato held that 
providential government was merely provisional ; that the 
inspired prophet stood on a distinctly lower level than the 
critical, self-conscious thinker ; that ratiocination and not 
poetry was the highest function of mind ; and that action 
should be reorganised in accordance with demonstrably 
certain principles.^ 

This search after a scientific basis for conduct was quite 
in the spirit of Socrates, but Plato seems to have set very 
little value on his master's positive contributions to the sys- 
tematisation of life. We have seen that the Apologia is purely 
sceptical in its tendency ; and we find a whole group of Dia- 
logues, probably the earliest of Plato's compositions, marked 
by the same negative, inconclusive tone. These are commonly 
spoken of as Socratic, and so no doubt they are in reference 
to the subjects discussed ; but they would be more accurately 
described as an attempt to turn the Socratic method against 
its first originator. We know from another source that tem- 

' See Zeller's note on the Oe/a jj-o'pa, op. cit. p. 497. 


perancc, fortitude, and piety were the chief virtues inculcated 
and practised by Socrates ; while friendship, if not strictly 
speaking a virtue, was equally with them one of his prime 
interests in life. It is clear that he considered them the most 
appropriate and remunerative subjects of philosophical discus- 
sion ; that he could define their nature to his own satisfaction ; 
and that he had, in fact, defined them as so many varieties of 
wisdom. Now, Plato has devoted a separate Dialogue to each 
of the conceptions in question,' and in each instance he repre- 
sents Socrates, who is principal spokesman, as professedly 
ignorant of the whole subject under discussion, offering no 
definition of his own (or at least none that he will stand by), 
but asking his interlocutors for theirs, and pulling it to 
pieces when it is given. We do, indeed, find a tendency 
to resolve the virtues into knowledge, and, so far, either to 
identify them with one another, or to carry them up into the 
unity of a higher idea. To this extent Plato follows in the 
footsteps of his master, but a result which had completely 
satisfied Socrates became the starting-point of a new investi- 
gation with his successor. If virtue is knowledge, it must be 
knowledge of what we most desire — of the good. Thus the 
original difficulty returns under another form, or rather we 
have merely restated it in different terms. For, to ask what 
is temperance or fortitude, is equivalent to asking what is its 
use. And this was so obvious to Socrates, that, apparently, he 
never thought of distinguishing between the two question.-;. 
But no sooner were they distinguished than his reduction of all 
morality to a single principle was shown to be illusive, For 
each specific virtue had been substituted the knowledge of a 
specific utility, and that was all. Unless the highest good 
were one, the means by which it was sought could not con- 
verge to a single point ; nor, according to the new ideas, 
could their mastery come under the jurisdiction of a single 

' The Charmidt's, Laches, Euthyphro, and L)sis 


We may also suspect that Plato was dissatisfied not only 
with the positive results obtained by Socrates, but also with 
the Socratic method of constructing general definitions. To 
rise from the part to the whole, from particular instances to 
general notions, was a popular rather than a scientific process ; 
and sometimes it only amounted to taking the current expla- 
nations and modifying them to suit the exigencies of ordinary 
experience. The resulting definitions could never be more 
than tentative, and a skilful dialectician could always upset 
them by producing an unlooked-for exception, or by discover- 
ing an ambiguity in the terms by which they were conveyed. 

Before ascertaining in what direction Plato sought for an 
outlet from these accumulated difficulties, we have to glance 
at a Dialogue belonging apparently to his earliest compositions, 
but in one respect occupying a position apart from the rest. 
The Crito tells us for what reasons Socrates refused to escape 
from the fate which awaited him in prison, as, with the assist- 
ance of generous friends, he might easily have done. The 
aged philosopher considered that by adopting such a course 
he would be setting the Athenian laws at defiance, and doing 
what in him lay to destroy their validity. Now, we know 
that the historical Socrates held justice to consist in obedience 
to the law of the land ; and here for once we find Plato agree- 
ing with him on a definite and positive issue. Such a sudden 
and singular abandonment of the sceptical attitude merits our 
attention. It might, indeed, be said that Plato's inconsist- 
encies defy all attempts at reconciliation, and that in this 
instance the desire to set his maligned friend in a favourable 
light triumphed over the claims of un impracticable logic. 
We think, however, that a deeper and truer solution can be 
found. If the Crito inculcates obedience to the laws as a 
binding obligation, it is not for the reasons which, according 
to Xenophon, were adduced by the real ' Socrates in his 
dispute, with the Sophist Hippias ; general utility and private 
interest were the sole grounds appealed to then. Plato, on 


the other hand, ignores all such external considerations. 
True to his usual method, he reduces the legal conscience to 
a purely dialectical process. Just as in an argument the dis- 
putants are, or ought to be, bound by their own admissions, 
so also the citizen is bound by a tacit compact to fulfil the 
laws whose protection he has enjoyed and of whose claims his 
protracted residence is an acknowledgment. Here there is 
no need of a transcendent foundation for morality, as none 
but logical considerations come into play. And it also 
deserves to be noticed that, where this very idea of an obli- 
gation based on acceptance of services had been employed by 
Socrates, it was discarded by Plato. In the Euthyphro, a 
Dialogue devoted to the discussion of piety, the theory that 
religion rests on an exchange of good offices between gods 
and men is mentioned only to be scornfully rejected. Equally 
remarkable, and equally in advance of the Socratic stand- 
point, is a principle enunciated in the Crito, that retaliation is 
wrong, and that evil should never be returned for evil.' 
And both are distinct anticipations of the earliest Christian 
teaching, though both are implicitly contradicted by the so- 
called religious services celebrated in Christian churches, and 
by the doctrine of a divine retribution which is only not 
retaliatory because it is infinitely in excess of the provocation 

If the earliest of Plato's enquiries, while they deal with the 
same subjects and are conducted on the same method as 
those cultivated by Socrates, evince a breadth of view 
surpassing anything recorded of him by Xenophon, they also 
exhibit traces of an influence disconnected with and inferior 
in value to his. On more than one occasion ^ Plato reasons, 
or rather quibbles, in a style which he has elsewhere held up 
to ridicule as characteristic of the Sophists, with such success 
that the name of sophistry has clung to it ever since. 

' P. 49, A ff. Zeller, 142. 

' Ckarmia'es, 161 E ; Lysis, 212 C. 


Indeed, some of the verbal fallacies employed arc so trans- 
parent that we can hardly suppose them to be unuitentional, 
and we are forced to conclude that the young despiser of 
human wisdom was resolved to maintain his thesis with any 
weapons, good or bad, which came to hand. And it seems 
much more likely that he learned the eristic art from 
Protagoras or from his disciples than from Socrates. Plato 
spent a large part of his life in opposing the Sophists — that 
is to say, the paid professors of wisdom and virtue ; but in 
spite of, or rather perhaps because of, this very opposition, he 
was profoundly affected by their teaching and example. It is 
quite conceivable, although we do not find it stated as a fact, 
that he resorted to them for instruction when a young man, 
and before coming under the influence of Socrates, an event 
which did not take place until he was twenty years old ; or he 
may have been directed to them by Socrates himself. With 
all its originality, his style bears traces of a rhetorical 
training in the more elaborate passages, and the Sophists 
were the only teachers of rhetoric then to be found. His 
habit of clothing philosophical lessons in the form of a myth 
seems also to have been borrowed from them. It would, 
therefore, not be surprising that he should cultivate their 
argumentative legerdemain side by side with the more strict 
and severe discipline of Socratic dialectics. 

Plato does, no doubt, make it a charge against the 
Sophists that their doctrines are not only false and immoral, 
but that they are put together without any regard for logical 
coherence. It would seem, however, that this style of attack 
belongs rather to the later and constructive than to the 
earlier and receptive period of his intellectual development. 
The original cause of his antagonism to the professional 
teachers seems to have been their general pretensions to 
knowledge, which, from the standpoint of universal scepticism, 
were, of course, utterly illusive ; together with a feeling of 
aristocratic contempt for a calling in which considerations of 


pecuniary interest were involved, heightened in this instance 
by a conviction that the buyer received nothing better than a 
sham article in exchange for his money. Here, again, a 
parallel suggests itself with the first preaching of the Gospel. 
The attitude of Christ towards the scribes and Pharisees, as 
also that of St. Paul towards Simon Magus, will help us to 
understand how Plato, in another order of spiritual teaching, 
must have regarded the hypocrisy of wisdom, the intrusion 
of fraudulent traders into the temple of Delphic inspiration, 
and the sale of a priceless blessing whose unlimited diffusion 
should have been its own and only reward. 

Yet throughout the philosophy of Plato we meet with a 
tendency to ambiguous shiftings and reversions of which, here 
also, due account must be taken. That curious blending of 
love and hate which forms the subject of a mystical lyric in 
Mr. Browning's Pippa Passes, is not without its counterpart 
in purely rationalistic discussion. If Plato used the Socratic 
method to dissolve away much that was untrue, because 
incomplete, in Socratism, he used it also to absorb much that 
was deserving of development in Sophisticism. If, in one 
sense, the latter was a direct uversal of his master's teaching, 
in another it served as a soit of intermediary between that 
teaching and the unenlightened consciousness of mankind. 
The shadow should not be confounded with the substance, 
but it might show by contiguity, by resemblance, and by 
contrast where the solid reality lay, what were its outlines, 
and how its characteristic lights might best be viewed. 

Such is the mild and conciliatory mode of treatment at 
first adopted by Plato in dealing with the principal represen- 
tative of the Sophists — Protagoras. In the Dialogue which 
bears his name the famous humanist is presented to us as a 
professor of popular unsystematised morality, proving by a 
variety of practical arguments and ingenious illustrations that 
virtue can be taught, and that the preservation of social order 
depends upon the possibility of teaching it ; but unwilling to 


go along with the reasonings by which Socrates shows the 
apphcability of rigorously scientific principles to conduct. 
Plato has here taken up one side of the Socratic ethics, and 
developed it into a complete and self-consistent theory. The 
doctrine inculcated is that form of utilitarianism to which Mr. 
Sidgwick has given the name of egoistic hedonism. We are 
brought to admit that virtue is one because the various 
virtues reduce themselves in the last analysis to prudence. 
It is assumed that happiness, in the sense of pleasure and the 
absence of pain, is the sole end of life. Duty is identified 
with interest. Morality is a calculus for con^puting quantities 
of pleasure and pain, and all virtuous action is a means for 
securing a maximum of the one together with a minimum of 
the other. Ethical science is constituted ; it can be taught 
like mathematics ; and so far the Sophists are right, but they 
have arrived at the truth by a purely empirical process ; while 
Socrates, who professes to know nothing, by simply following 
the dialectic impulse strikes out a generalisation which at once 
confirms and explains their position ; yet from self-sufficiency 
or prejudice they refuse to agree with him in taking their 
stand on its only logical foundation. 

That Plato put forward the ethical theory of the Protagoras 
in perfect good faith cannot, we think, be doubted ; although 
in other writings he has repudiated hedonism with contemptu- 
ous aversion ; and it seems equally evident that this was his 
earliest contribution to positive thought. Of all his theories 
it is the simplest and most Socratic ; for Socrates, in en- 
deavouring to reclaim the foolish or vicious, often spoke as if 
self-interest was the paramount principle of human nature ; 
although, had his assumption been formulated as an abstract 
proposition, he too might have shrunk from it with something 
of the uneasiness attributed to Protagoras. And from internal 
evidence of another description we have reason to think that 
the Dialogue in question is a comparativelyjuvenile production, 
remembering always that the period of youth was much more 


protracted among the Greeks than among ourselves. One 
almost seems to recognise the hand of a boy just out of 
college, who delights in drawing caricatures of his teachers ; 
and who, while he looks down on classical scholarship in com- 
parison with more living and practical topics, is not sorry to 
show that he can discuss a difficult passage from Simonides 
better than the professors themselves. 


Our survey of Plato's first period is now complete ; and we 
have to enter on the far more arduous task of tracing out the 
circumstances, impulses, and ideas by which all the scattered 
materials of Greek life, Greek art, and Greek thought were 
shaped into a new system and stamped with the impress of 
an imperishable genius. At the threshold of this second 
period the personality of Plato himself emerges into greater 
distinctness, and we have to consider what part it played in 
an evolution where universal tendencies and individual lean- 
ings were inseparably combined. 

Plato was born in the year 429, or according to some 
accounts 427, and died 347 B.C. Few incidents in his biography 
can be fixed with any certainty ; but for our purpose the 
most general facts are also the most interesting, and about 
these we have tolerably trustworthy information. His family 
was one of the noblest in Athens, being connected on the 
father's side with Codrus, and on the mother's with Solon ; 
while two of his kinsmen, Critias and Charmides, were among 
the chiefs of the oligarchic party. It is uncertain whether he 
inherited any considerable property, nor is the question one of 
much importance. It seems clear that he enjoyed the best 
education Athens could afford, and that through life he pos- 
sessed a competence sufficient to relieve him from the cares of 
material existence. Possibly the preference which he ex- 
pressed, when far advanced in life, for moderate health and 


wealth arose from having experienced those advantages him- 
self. If the busts which bear his name are to be trusted, he 
was remarkably beautiful, and, like some other philosophers, 
very careful of his personal appearance. Perhaps some 
reminiscences of the admiration bestowed on himself may be 
mingled with those pictures of youthful loveliness and of its 
exciting effect on the imaginations of older men which give 
such grace and animation to his earliest dialogues. We know 
not whether as lover or beloved he passed unscathed through 
the storms of passion which he has so powerfully described, 
nor whether his apparently intimate acquaintance with them 
is due to divination or to regretful experience. We may pass 
by in silence whatever is related on this subject, with the cer- 
tainty that, whether true or not, scandalous stories could not 
fail to be circulated about him. 

It was natural that one who united a great intellect to a 
glowing temperament should turn his thoughts to poetry. 
Plato wrote a quantity of verses — verse-making had become 
fashionable just then — but wisely committed them to the 
flames on making the acquaintance of Socrates, It may well 
be doubted whether the author of the Phaedrus and the 
Symposium would ever have ai.t;uned eminence in metrical 
composition, even had he lived !• . i age far more favourable 
to poetic inspiration than that • i"' c ■ me after the flowering 
time of Attic art. It seems as if 'lato, with all his fervour, 
fancy, and dramatic skill, lacked the most essential quality of 
a singer ; his finest passages are on a level with the highest 
poetry, and yet they are separated from it by a chasm more 
easily felt than described. Aristotle, whom we think of as 
hard and dry and cold, sometimes comes much nearer to the 
true lyric cry. And, as if to mark out Plato's style still more 
distinctly from every other, it is also deficient in oratorical 
power. The philosopher evidently thought that he could beat 
the rhetoricians on their own ground ; if the Menexemis be 
genuine, he tried to do so and failed ; and even without its 


testimony v/e are entitled to say as much on the strength of 
shorter attempts. We must even take leave to doubt whether 
dialogue, properly so called, was Plato's forte. Where one 
speaker is placed at such a height above the others as Socrates, 
or the Eleatic Stranger, or the Athenian in the Laws, there 
cannot be any real conversation. The other interlocutors are 
good listeners, and serve to break the monotony of a con- 
tinuous exposition by their expressions of assent or even by 
their occasional inability to follow the argument, but give no 
real help or stimulus. And when allowed to offer an opinion 
of their own, they, too, lapse into a monologue, addressed, as 
our silent trains of thought habitually are, to an imaginary 
auditor whose sympathy and support are necessary but are 
also secure. Yet if Plato's style is neither exactly poetical, 
nor oratorical, nor conversational, it has affinities with each of 
these three varieties ; it represents the common root from 
which they spring, and brings us, better than any other species 
of composition, into immediate contact with the mind of the 
writer. The Platonic Socrates has eyes like those of a por- 
trait which follow us wherever we turn, and through which 
we can read his inmost soul, which is no other than the uni- 
versal reason of humanity in the delighted surprise of its first 
awakening to self-conscious activity. The poet thinks and 
feels for us ; the orator makes our thoughts and feelings his 
own, and then restores them to us in a concentrated form, 
• receiving in vapour what he gives back in a flood.' Plato 
removes every obstacle to the free development of our faculties ; 
he teaches us by his own example how to think and to feel 
for ourselves. If Socrates personified philosophy, Plato has 
reproduced the personification in artistic form with such 
masterly effect that its influence has been extended through 
all ages and over the whole civilised world. This portrait 
stands as an intermediary between its original and the far- 
reaching effects indirectly due to his dialectic inspiration, like 
that universal soul which Plato himself has placed between 


the supreme artificer and the material world, that it might 
bring the fleeting contents of space and time into harmony 
with uncreated and everlasting ideas. 

To paint Socrates at his highest and his best, it was neces- 
sary to break through the narrow limits of his historic indivi- 
duality, and to show how, had they been presented to him, he 
would have dealt with problems outside the experience of 
a home- staying Athenian citizen. The founder of idealism — 
that is to say, the realisation of reason, the systematic applica- 
tion of thought to life— had succeeded in his task because he 
had embodied the noblest elements of the Athenian Demos, 
orderliness, patriotism, self-control, and publicity of debate, 
together with a receptive intelligence for improvements effected 
in other states. But, just as the impulse which enabled those 
qualities to tell decisively on Greek history at a moment of 
inestimable importance came from the Athenian aristocracy, 
with its Dorian sympathies, its adventurous ambition, and its 
keen attention to foreign affairs, so also did Plato, carrying 
the same spirit into philosophy, bring the dialectic method 
into contact with older and broader currents of speculation, 
and employ it to recognise the whole spiritual activity of his 

A strong desire for reform must always be preceded by a 
deep dissatisfaction with things as they are ; and if the reform 
is to be very sweeping the discontent must be equally com- 
prehensive. Hence the great renovators of human life have 
been remarkable for the severity with which they have 
denounced the failings of the world where they were placed, 
whether as regards persons, habits, institutions, or beliefs. Yet 
to speak of their attitude as pessimistic would either be unfair, 
or would betray an unpardonable inability to discriminate 
between two utterly different theories of existence. Nothing 
can well be more unlike the systematized pusillanimity of 
those lost souls, without courage and without hope, who find 
a consolr.tion for their own failure in the belief that evcr}-thing 


is a failure, than the fiery energy which is drawn into a per- 
petual tension by the contrast of what is with the vision of 
what yet may be. But if pessimism paralyses every generous 
effort and aspiration by teaching that misery is the irremedi- 
able lot of animated beings, or even, in the last analysis, of all 
being, the opposing theory of optimism exercises as deadly 
an influence when it induces men to believe that their present 
condition is, on the whole, a satisfactory one, or that at 
worst wrong will be righted without any criticism or inter- 
ference on their part. Even those who believe progress to 
have been, so far, the most certain fact in human history, can- 
not blind themselves to the existence of enormous forces ever 
tending to draw society back into the barbarism and brutality 
of its primitive condition ; and they know also, that whatever 
ground we have won is due to the efforts of a small minority, 
who were never weary of urging forward their more sluggish 
companions, without caring what angry susceptibilities they 
might arouse — risking recrimination, insult, and outrage, so 
that only, under whatever form, whether of divine mandate 
or of scientific demonstration, the message of humanity to her 
children might be delivered in time. Nor is it only with 
immobility that they have had to contend. Gains in one 
direction are frequently balanced by losses in another ; while 
at certain periods there is a distinct retrogression along the 
whole line. And it is well if, amid the general decline to a 
lower level, sinister voices are not heard proclaiming that the 
multitude may safely trust to their own promptings, and that 
self-indulgence or self-will should be the only law of life. It 
is also on such occasions that the rallying cry is most needed, 
and that the born leaders of civilisation must put forth their 
most strenuous efforts to arrest the disheartened fugitives 
and to denounce the treacherous guides. It was in this 
aspect that Plato viewed his age ; and he set himself to con- 
tinue the task which Socrates had attempted, but had been 
trampled down in endeavouring to achieve. '' 



The illustrious Italian poet and essayist, Leopardi, has 
observed that the idea of the world as a vast confederacy 
banded together for the repression of everything good and 
great and true, originated with Jesus Christ^ It is surprising 
that so accomplished a Hellenist should not have attributed 
the priority to Plato. It is true that he does not speak of 
the world itself in Leopardi's sense, because to him it meant 
something different — a divinely created order which it would 
have been blasphemy to revile ; but the thing is everywhere 
present to his thoughts under other names, and he pursues it 
with relentless hostility. He looks on the great majority of 
the human race, individually and socially, in their beliefs and 
in their practices, as utterly corrupt, and blinded to such an 
extent that they are ready to turn and rend any one who 
attempts to lead them into a better path. The many 'know 
not wisdom and virtue, and are always busy with gluttony 
and sensuality. Like cattle, with their eyes always looking 
down and their heads stooping, not, indeed, to the earth, but 
to the dining-table, they fatten and feed and breed, and in 
their excessive love of these delights they kick and butt at 
one another with horns and hoofs which are made of iron ; 
and they kill one another by reason of their insatiable lust' ^ 
Their ideal is the man who nurses up his desires to the utmost 
intensity, and procures the means for gratifying them by 
fraud or violence. The assembled multitude resembles a 
strong and fierce brute expressing its wishes by inarticulate 
grunts, which the popular leaders make it their business to 
understand and to comply with. A statesman of the nobler 
kind who should attempt to benefit the people by thwarting 
their foolish appetites will be denounced as a public enemy 
by the demagogues, and will stand no more chance of acquittal 
than a physician if he were brought before a jury of children 
by the pastry-cook. 

' Pensicri, Ixxxiv and Ixxxv. 

■^ Repiih., 5S6, A. Jowett, III , p. 481. 



That an Athenian, or, indeed, any Greek gentleman, 
should regard the common people with contempt and aversion 
was nothing strange. A generation earlier such feelings 
would have led Plato to look on the overthrow of democracy 
and the establishment of an aristocratic government as the 
remedy for every evil. The upper classes, accustomed to 
decorate themselves with complimentary titles, had actually 
come to believe that all who belonged to them were paragons 
of wisdom and goodness. With the rule of the Thirty came 
a terrible awakening. In a few months more atrocities were 
perpetrated by the oligarchs than the Demos had been guilty 
of in as many generations. It was shown that accomplished 
gentlemen like Critias were only distinguished from the 
common herd by their greater impatience of opposition and 
by the more destructive fury of their appetites. With Plato, 
at least, all illusions on this head came to an end. He now 
' smiled at the claims of long descent,' considering that ' every 
man has had thousands and thousands of progenitors, and 
among them have been rich and poor, kings and slaves, 
Hellenes and barbarians, many times over ; ' and even the 
possession of a large landed property ceased to inspire him 
with any respect when he compared it with the surface of the 
whole earth. 

There still remained one form of government to be tried, 
the despotic rule of a single individual. In the course of his 
travels Plato came into contact with an able and powerful 
specimen of the tyrant class, the elder Dionysius. A number 
of stories relating to their intercourse have been preserved ; 
but the different versions disagree very widely, and none of 
them can be entirely trusted. It seems certain, however, 
that Plato gave great offence to the tyrant by his freedom of 
speech, that he narrowly escaped death, and that he was sold 
into slavery, from which condition he was redeemed by the 
generosity of Anniceris, a Cyrenaean philosopher. It is 
supposed that the scathing description in which Plato has 

O 2 


held up to everlastinjT infamy the unworthy possessor of 
absolute power — a description long afterwards applied by 
Tacitus to the vilest of the Roman emperors — was suggested 
by the type which had come under his own observation in 

Of all existing constitutions that of Sparta approached 
nearest to the ideal of Plato, or, rather, he regarded it as the 
least degraded. He liked the conservatism of the Spartans, 
their rigid discipline, their haughty courage, the participation 
of their daughters in gymnastic exercises, the austerity of 
their manners, and their respect for old age ; but he found 
much to censure both in their ancient customs and in the 
characteristics which the possession of empire had recently 
developed among them. He speaks with disapproval of 
their exclusively military organisation, of their contempt for 
philosophy, and of the open sanction which they gave to 
practices barely tolerated at Athens. And he also comments 
on their covetousness, their harshness to inferiors, and their 
haste to throw off the restraints of the law whenever detection 
could be evaded.* 

So far we have spoken as if Plato regarded the various 
false polities existing around him as so many fixed and dis- 
connected types. This, however, was not the case. The 
present state of things was bad enough, but it threatened to 
become worse wherever worse was possible. The constitu- 
tions exhibiting a mixture of good and evil contained within 
themselves the seeds of a further corruption, and tended to 
pass into the form standing next in order on the downward 
slope. Spartan timocracy must in time become an oligarchy, 
to oligarchy would succeed democracy, and this would end in 
tyranny, beyond which no further fall was possible.^ The 
degraded condition of Syracuse seemed likely to be the last 
outcome of Hellenic civilisation. We know not how far the 
gloomy forebodings of Plato may have been justified by his 

' Zeller, op. cit.. 777-8. * Repiih., VIII. .ind IX. 


own experience, but he sketched with prophetic insight the 
future fortunes of the Roman Republic. Every phase of the 
progressive degeneration is exempHfied in its later history, 
and the order of their succession is most faithfully preserved. 
Even his portraits of individual timocrats, oligarchs, dema- 
gogues, and despots are reproduced to the life in the pages of 
Plutarch, of Cicero, and of Tacitus. 

If our critic found so little to admire in Hellas, still less 
did he seek for the realisation of his dreams in the outlying 
world. The lessons of Protagoras had not been wasted on 
him, and, unlike the nature-worshippers of the eighteenth 
century, he never fell into the delusion that wisdom and virtue 
had their home in primaeval forests or in corrupt Oriental 
despotisms. For him, Greek civilisation, with all its faults, 
was the best thing that human nature had produced, the only 
hearth of intellectual culture, the only soil where new ex- 
periments in education and government could be tried. He 
could go down to the roots of thought, of language, and of 
society ; he could construct a new style, a new system, and a 
new polity, from the foundation up ; he could grasp all the 
tendencies that came under his immediate observation, and 
follow them out to their utmost possibilities of expansion ; 
but his vast powers of analysis and generalisation remained 
subject to this restriction, that a Hellene he was and a Hellene 
he remained to the end. 

A Hellene, and an aristocrat as well. Or, using the word 
in its most comprehensive sense, we may say that he. was an 
aristocrat all round, a believer in inherent superiorities of 
race, sex, birth, breeding, and age. Everywhere we find him 
restlessly searching after the wisest, purest, best, until at last, 
passing beyond the limits of existence itself, words fail him 
to describe the absolute ineffable only good, not being and 
not knowledge, but creating and inspiring both. Thus it 
came to pass that his hopes of effecting a thorough reform 
did not lie in an appeal to the masses, but in the selection and 


seclusion from evil influences of a few intelligent youths. 
Here we may detect a remarkable divergence between him 
and his master. Socrates, himself a man of the people, did 
not like to hear the Athenians abused. If they went wrong, 
it was, he said, the fault of their leaders.^ But according to 
Plato, it was from the people themselves that corruption 
originally proceeded, it was they who instilled false lessons 
into the most intelligent minds, teaching them from their very 
infancy to prefer show to substance, success to merit, and 
pleasure to virtue ; making the study of popular caprice the 
sure road to power, and poisoning the very sources of morality 
by circulating blasphemous stories about the gods — stories 
which represented them as weak, sensual, capricious beings, 
setting an example of iniquity themselves, and quite willing 
to pardon it in men on condition of going shares in the spoil. 
The poets had a great deal to do with the manufacture of 
these discreditable myths ; and towards poets as a class Plato 
entertained feelings of mingled admiration and contempt. 
As an artist, he was powerfully attracted by the beauty of 
their works ; as a theologian, he believed them to be the 
channels of divine inspiration, and sometimes also the 
guardians of a sacred tradition ; but as a critic, he was shocked 
at their incapacity to explain the meaning of their own works, 
especially when it was coupled with ridiculous pretensions to 
omniscience ; and he regarded the imitative character of their 
productions as illustrating, in a particularly flagrant manner, 
that substitution of appearance for reality which, according to 
his philosophy, was the deepest source of error and evil. 

If private society exercised a demoralising influence on its 
most gifted members, and in turn suffered a still further 
debasement by listening to their opinions, the same fatal 
interchange of corruption went on still more actively in public 
life, so far, at least, as Athenian democracy was concerned. 
The people would tolerate no statesman who did not pamper 

' Xcnophon, Mo/i., HI., v., i'6. 


their appetites ; and the statesmen, for their own ambitious 
purposes, attended solely to the material wants of the people, 
entirely neglecting their spiritual interests. In this respect, 
Pericles, the most admired of all, had been the chief of 
sinners ; for * he was the first who gave the people pay and 
made them idle and cowardly, and encouraged them in the 
love of talk and of money.' Accordingly, a righteous retribu- 
tion overtook him, for ' at the very end of his life they con- 
victed him of theft, and almost put him to death.' So it had 
been with the other boasted leaders, Miltiades, Themistocles, 
and Cimon ; all suffered from what is falsely called the 
ingratitude of the people. Like injudicious keepers, they had 
made the animal committed to their charge fiercer instead of 
gentler, until its savage propensities were turned against 
themselves. Or, changing the comparison, they were like 
purveyors of luxury, who fed the State on a diet to which its 
present * ulcerated and swollen condition ' was due. They 
had ' filled the city full of harbours, and docks, and walls, and 
revenues and all that, and had left no room for justice and 
temperance.' One only among the elder statesmen, Aristeides, 
is excepted from this sweeping condemnation, and, similarly, 
Socrates is declared to have been the only true statesnuan of 
his time.' 

On turning from the conduct of State affairs to the 
administration of justice in the popular law courts, we find 
the same tale of iniquity repeated, but this time with more 
telling satire, as Plato is speaking from his own immediate 
experience. He considers that, under the manipulation of 
dexterous pleaders, judicial decisions had come to be framed 
with a total disregard of righteousness. That disputed claims 
should be submitted to a popular tribunal and settled by 
counting heads was, indeed, according to his view, a 
virtual admission that no absolute standard of justice existed ; 
that moral truth varied with individual opinion. And this 

' Gor^ias, 515, C, ff. Jowett, II., 396-400. 


is how the character of the lawyer had been moulded \\\ 
consequence : — 

He has become keen and shrewd ; he has learned how to flatter 
his master in word and indulge him in deed ; but his soul is small 
and unrighteous. His slavish condition has deprived him of growth 
and uprightness and independence ; dangers and fears which were 
too much for his truth and honesty came upon him in early years, 
when the tenderness of youth was unequal to them, and he has been 
driven into crooked ways ; from the first he has practised deception 
and retaliation, and has become stunted and warped. And so he 
has passed out of youth into manhood, having no soundness in him, 
and is now, as he thinks, a master in wisdom.^ 

To make matters worse, the original of this unflattering 
portrait was rapidly becoming the most powerful man in the 
State. Increasing specialisation had completely separated 
the military and political functions which had formerly been 
discharged by a single eminent individual, and the business 
of legislation was also becoming a distinct profession. No 
orator could obtain a hearing in the assembly who had not a 
technical acquaintance with the subject of deliberation, if it 
admitted of technical treatment, which was much more fre- 
quently the case now than in the preceding generation. As 
a consequence of this revolution, the ultimate power of 
supervision and control was passing into the hands of the 
law courts, where general questions could be discussed in a 
more popular style, and often from a wider or a more senti- 
mental point of view. They were, in fact, beginning to wield 
an authority like that exercised until quite lately by the 
press in modern Europe, only that its action was much more 
direct and formidable. A vote of the Ecclesia could only 
deprive a statesman of office : a vote of the Dicastery might 
deprive him of civil rights, home, freedom, property, or even 
life itself. Moreover, with the loss of empire and the de- 
cline of public spirit, private interests had come to attract a 
proportionately larger share of attention ; and unobtrusive citi- 
' Theadeltts, 173, A. JowcU, IV., 322. 


zens who had formerly escaped from the storms of party 
passion, now found themselves marked out as a prey by every 
fluent and dexterous pleader who could find an excuse for 
dragging them before the courts. Rhetoric was hailed as the 
supreme art, enabling its possessor to dispense with every 
other study, and promising young men were encouraged to 
look on it as the most paying line they could take up. Even 
those whose civil status or natural timidity precluded them 
from speaking in public could gain an eminent and envied 
position by composing speeches for others to deliver. Behind 
these, again, stood the professed masters of rhetoric, claim- 
ing to direct the education and the whole public opinion of 
the age by their lectures and pamphlets. Philosophy was 
not excluded from their system of training, but it occupied a 
strictly subordinate place. Studied in moderation, they 
looked on it as a bracing mental exercise and a repertory 
of sounding commonplaces, if not as a solvent for old- 
fashioned notions of honesty ; but a close adherence to the 
laws of logic or to the principles of morality seemed puerile 
pedantry to the elegant stylists who made themselves the 
advocates of every crowned filibuster abroad, while preaching 
a policy of peace at any price at home. 

It is evident that the fate of Socrates was constantly in 
Plato's thoughts, and greatly embittered his scorn for the multi- 
tude as well as for those who made themselves its ministers 
and minions. It so happened that his friend's three accusers 
had been respectively a poet, a statesman, and a rhetor ; thus 
aptly typifying to the philosopher's lively imagination the 
triad of charlatans in whom public opinion found its appro- 
priate representatives and spokesmen. Yet Plato ought 
consistently to have held that the condemnation of Socrates 
was, equally with the persecution of Pericles, a satire on the 
teaching which, after at least thirty years' exercise, had left 
its auditors more corrupt than it found them. In like manner 
the ostracism of Aristcidcs might be set against similar 


sentences passed on less puritanical statesmen. For the 
purpose of the argument it would have been sufficient to 
show that in existing circumstances the office of public 
adviser was both thankless and dangerous. We must always 
remember that when Plato is speaking of past times he is 
profoundly influenced by aristocratic traditions, and also that 
under a retrospective disguise he is really attacking contem- 
porary abuses. And if, even then, his denunciations seem 
excessive, their justification may be found in that continued 
decay of public virtue which, not long afterwards, brought 
about the final catastrophe of Athenian independence. 


To illustrate the relation in which Plato stood towards his 
own times, we have already had occasion to draw largely on 
the productions of his maturer manhood. We have now to 
take up the broken thread of our systematic exposition, and 
to trace the development of his philosophy through that 
wonderful series of compositions which entitle him to rank 
among the greatest writers, the most comprehensive thinkers, 
and the purest religious teachers of all ages. In the presence 
of such glory a mere divergence of opinion must not be 
IDcrmitted to influence our judgment. High above all parti- 
cular truths stands the principle that truth itself e:tists, and it 
was for this that Plato fought. If there were others more 
completely emancipated from superstition, none so persist- 
ently appealed to the logic before which superstition must 
ultimately vanish. If his schemes for the reconstruction of 
society ignore many obvious facts, they assert with unrivalled 
force the necessary supremacy of public welfare over private 
pleasure ; and their avowed utilitarianism offers a common 
ground to the rival reformers who will have nothing to do 
with the mysticism of their metaphysical foundation. Those, 
again, who hold, like the youthful Plato himself, that the 


ultimate interpretation of existence belongs to a science 
transcending human reason, will here find the doctrines of 
their religion anticipated as in a dream. And even those 
who, standing aloof both from theology and philosophy, live, 
as they imagine, for beauty alone, will observe with interest 
how the spirit of Greek art survived in the denunciation of its 
idolatry, and ' the light that never was on sea or land,' after 
fading away from the lower levels of Athenian fancy, came 
once more to suffuse the frozen steeps of dialectic with its 
latest and divinest rays. 

The glowing enthusiasm of Plato is, however, not entirely 
derived from the poetic traditions of his native city ; or 
perhaps we should rather say that he and the great writers 
who preceded him drew from a common fount of inspiration. 
Mr. Emerson, in one of the most penetrating criticisms ever 
written on our philosopher,' has pointed out the existence of 
two distinct elements in the Platonic Dialogues — one disper- 
sive, practical, prosaic ; the other mystical, absorbing, centri- 
petal. The American scholar is, however, as we think, quite 
mistaken when he attributes the second of these tendencies to 
Asiatic influence. It is extremely doubtful whether Plato 
ever travelled farther east than Egypt ; it is probable that 
his stay in that country was not of long duration ; and it is 
certain that he did not acquire a single metaphysical idea 
from its inhabitants. He liked their rigid conservatism ; he 
liked their institution of a dominant priesthood ; he liked 
their system of popular education, and the place which it 
gave to mathematics made him look with shame on the 
* swinish ignorance ' of his own countrymen in that respect ; ^ 
but on the whole he classes them among the races exclusively 
devoted to money-making, and in aptitude for philosophy he 
places them far below the Greeks. Very different were the 
impressions brought home from his visits to Sicily and 

' The lecture on Plato in Kepnscnlative iMtii. 
■ Lcs^\ 819, D. Jowett, v., 390. 


Southern Italy. There he became acquainted with modes of 
thought in which the search after hidden resemblances and 
analogies was a predominant passion ; there the existence of 
a central unity underlying all phenomena was maintained, 
as against sense and common opinion, with the intensity of a 
religious creed ; there alone speculation was clothed in poetic 
language ; there first had an attempt been made to carry 
thought into life by associating it with a reform of manners 
and beliefs. There, too, the arts of dance and song had 
assumed a more orderly and solemn aspect ; the chorus 
received its final constitution from a Sicilian master ; and the 
loftiest strains of Greek lyric poetry were composed for reci- 
tation in the streets of Sicilian cities or at the courts of 
Sicilian kings. Then, with the rise of rhetoric, Greek prose 
was elaborated by Sicilian teachers into a sort of rhythmical 
composition, combining rich imagery with studied harmonies 
and contrasts of sense and sound. And as the hold of 
Asiatic civilisation on eastern Hellas grew weaker, the atten- 
tion of her foremost spirits was more and more attracted to 
this new region of wonder and romance. The stream of 
colonisation set thither in a steady flow ; the scenes of 
mythical adventure were rediscovered in Western waters ; and 
it was imagined that, by grasping the resources of Sicily, an 
empire extending over the whole Mediterranean might be 
won. Perhaps, without being too fanciful, we may trace a 
likeness between the daring schemes of Alcibiades and the 
more remote but not more visionary kingdom suggested by 
an analogous inspiration to the idealising soul of Plato. 
Each had learned to practise, although for far different 
purposes, the royal art of Socrates — the mastery over men's 
minds acquired by a close study of their interests, passions, 
and beliefs. But the ambition of the one defeated his own 
aim, to the destruction of his country and of himself ; while 
the other drew into Athenian thought whatever of Western 
force and fervour was needed for the accomplishment of its 


imperial task. We may say of Plato what he has said of his 
own Theaetetus, that ' he moves surely and smoothly and 
successfully in the path of knowledge and inquiry ; always 
making progress like the noiseless flow of a river of oil ' ; ' but 
everywhere beside or beneath that placid lubricating flow we 
may trace the action of another current, where still sparkles, 
fresh and clear as at first, the fiery Sicilian wine. 

It will be remembered that in an earlier section of this 
chapter we accompanied Plato to a period when he had 
provisionally adopted a theory in which the Protagorean 
contention that virtue can be taught was confirmed and 
explained by the Socratic contention that virtue is know- 
ledge ; while this knowledge again Avas interpreted in the 
sense of a hedonistic calculus, a prevision and comparison of 
the pleasures and pains consequent on our actions. We have 
now to trace the lines of thought by which he was guided to 
a different conception of ethical science. 

After resolving virtue into knowledge of pleasure, the 
next questions which would present themselves to so keen a 
thinker were obviously, What is knowledge } and What is 
pleasure .-' The Theaetetus is chiefly occupied with a discus- 
sion of the various answers already given to the first of these 
enquiries. It seems, therefore, to come naturally next after 
the Protagoras ; and our conjecture receives a further con- 
firmation when we find that here also a large place is given 
to the opinions of the Sophist after whom that dialogue is 
named ; the chief difference being that the points selected for 
controversy are of a speculative rather than of a practical 
character. There is, however, a close connexion between the 
argument by which Protagoras had endeavoured toprove that all 
mankind are teachers of virtue, and his more general principle 
that man is the measure of all things. And perhaps it was 
the more obvious difficulties attending the latter view which 
led Plato, after some hesitation, to reject the former along 

' Theaet., 144. Jowett's Transl. 


with it. In an earlier chapter we gave some reasons for 
believing that Protagoras did not erect every individual into 
an arbiter of truth in the sweeping sense afterwards put upon 
his words. He was probably opposing a human to a theolo- 
gical or a naturalistic standard. Nevertheless, it does not 
follow that Plato was fighting with a shadow when he 
pressed the Protagorean dictum to its most literal interpreta- 
tion. There are plenty of people still who would maintain it 
to that extent. Wherever and whenever the authority of 
ancient traditions is broken down, the doctrine that one 
man's opinion is as good as another's immediately takes its 
place ; or rather the doctrine in question is a survival of 
traditionalism in an extremely pulverised form. And when 
we are told that the majority must be right — which is a very 
different principle from holding that the majority should be 
obeyed — we may take it as a sign that the loose particles 
are beginning to coalesce again. The substitution of an 
individual for a universal standard of truth is, according to 
Plato, a direct consequence of the theory which identifies 
knowledge with sense-perception. It is, at any rate, certain 
that the most vehement assertors of the former doctrine are 
also those who are fondest of appealing to what they and 
their friends have seen, heard, or felt ; and the more edu- 
cated among them place enormous confidence in statistics. 
They are also fond of repeating the adage that an ounce 
of fact is worth a ton of theory, without considering that 
theory alone can furnish the balance in which facts are 
weighed. Plato does not go very deep into the rationale of 
observation, nor in the infancy of exact science was it to be 
expected that he should. He fully recognised the presence 
of two factors, an objective and a subjective, in every sensa- 
tion, but lost his hold on the true method in attempting to 
trace a like dualism through the whole of consciousness. 
Where we should distinguish between the mental energies 
and the physical processes underlying them, or between the 


elements respectively contributed to every cognition by 
immediate experience and reflection, he conceived the inner 
and outer worlds as two analogous series related to one 
another as an image to its original. 

At this last point we touch on the final generalisation by 
which Plato extended the dialectic method to all existence, 
and readmitted into philosophy the earlier speculations 
provisionally excluded from it by Socrates. The cross- 
examining elenchus, at first applied only to individuals, had 
been turned with destructive effect on every class, every insti- 
tution, and every polity, until the whole of human life was 
made to appear one mass of self-contradiction, instability, 
and illusion. It had been held by some that the order of 
nature offered a contrast and a correction to this bewildering 
chaos. Plato, on the other hand, sought to show that the 
ignorance and evil prevalent among men were only a part of 
the imperfection necessarily belonging to derivative existence 
of every kind. For this purpose the philosophy of Heraclei- 
tus proved a welcome auxiliary. The pupil of Socrates had 
been taught in early youth by Cratylus, an adherent of the 
Ephesian school, that movement, relativity, and the con- 
junction of opposites are the very conditions under which 
Nature works. We may conjecture that Plato did not at 
first detect any resemblance between the Heracleitean flux 
and the mental bewilderment produced or brought to light 
by the master of cross-examination. But his visit to Italy 
would probably enable him to take a new view of the Ionian 
speculations, by bringing him into contact with schools main- 
taining a directly opposite doctrine. The Eleatics held that 
existence remained eternally undivided, unmoved, and un- 
changed. The Pythagoreans arranged all things according 
to a strained and rigid antithetical construction. Then came 
the identifying flash.' Unchangeable reality, divine order, 

' This expression is borrowed from Prof. Bain. See the chapter on Associa- 
tion by Re^embl.'ince in The Senses and t lie Intellect. 


mathematical truth — these were the objective counterpart of 
the Socratic definitions, of the consistency which Socrates 
introduced into conduct. The Heracleitean system apphed 
to phenomena only ; and it faithfully reflected the incoherent 
beliefs and disorderly actions of uneducated men. We are 
brought into relation with the fluctuating sea of generated 
and perishing natures by sense and opinion, and these repro- 
duce, in their irreconcilable diversity, the shifting character 
of the objects with which they are conversant. Whatever we 
see and feel is a mixture of being and unreality ; it is, and is 
not, at the same time. Sensible magnitudes are equal or 
greater or less according as the standard of comparison is 
chosen. Yet the very act of comparison shows that there is 
something in ourselves deeper than mere sense ; something 
to which all individual sensations are referred as to a common 
centre, and in which their images are stored up. Knowledge, 
then, can no longer be identified with sensation, since the 
mental reproductions of external objects are apprehended 
in the absence of their originals, and since thought possesses 
the further faculty of framing abstract notions not represent- 
ing any sensible objects at all. 

We need not follow Plato's investigations into the meaning 
of knowledge and the causes of illusion any further ; espe- 
cially as they do not lead, in this instance, to any positive 
conclusion. The general tendency is to seek for truth within 
rather than without ; and to connect error partly with the dis- 
turbing influence of sense-impressions on the higher mental 
faculties, partly with the inherent confusion and instability of 
the phenomena whence those impressions are derived. Our 
principal concern here is to note the expansive power of 
generalisation which was carrying philosophy back again 
from man to Nature — the deep-seated contempt of Plato for 
public opinion — and the incipient differentiation of demon- 
strated from empirical truth. 

A somewhat similar vein of reflection is worked out in the 


Cratyliis, a Dialogue presenting some important points of 
contact with the Theaetctns, and probably belonging to the 
same period. There is the same constant reference to 
Heracleitus, whose philosophy is here also treated as in great 
measure, but not entirely, true ; and the opposing system of 
Parmenides is again mentioned, though much more briefly, 
as a valuable set-off against its extravagances. The 
Cratylns deals exclusively with language, just as the TJicac- 
tctiis had dealt with sensation and mental imagery, but in 
such a playful and ironical tone that its speculative import- 
ance is likely to be overlooked. Some of the Greek philo- 
sophers seem to have thought that the study of things might 
advantageously be replaced by the study of v/ords, which were 
supposed to have a natural and necessary connexion with 
their accepted meanings. This view was particularly favoured 
by the Heracleiteans, who found, or fancied that they found, 
a confirmation of their master's teaching in etymology. Plato 
professes to adopt the theory in question, and supports it with 
a number of derivations v/hich to us seem ludicrously absurd, 
but which may possibly have been transcribed from the pages 
of contemporary philologists. At last, however, he turns 
round and shows that other verbal arguments, equally good, 
might be adduced on behalf of Parmenides. But the most 
valuable part of the discussion is a protest against the whole 
theory that things can be studied through their names. Plato 
justly observes that an image, to be perfect, should not re- 
produce its original, but only certain aspects of it ; that the 
framers of language were not infallible ; and that we are just 
as competent to discover the nature of things as they could 
be. One can imagine the delight with which he would have 
welcomed the modern discovery that sensations, too, are a 
language ; and that the associated groups into which they 
most readily gather are determined less by the necessary con- 
nexions of things in themselves than by the exigencies of 
self-preservation and reproduction in sentient beings. 



Through all his criticisms on the popular sources of infor- 
mation — sense, language and public opinion — Plato refers to 
an ideal of perfect knowledge which he assumes without 
being able to define it. It must satisfy the negative con- 
dition of being free from self-contradiction, but further than 
this we cannot go. Yet, in the hands of a metaphysician, no 
more than this was required to reconstruct the world. The 
demand for consistency explains the practical philosophy of 
Socrates. It also explains, under another form, the philo- 
sophy, both practical and speculative, of his disciple. 
Identity and the correlative of identity, difference, gradually 
came to cover with their manifold combinations all know- 
ledge, all life, and all existence. 

It was from mathematical science that the light of 
certainty first broke. Socrates had not encouraged the study 
of mathematics, either pure or applied ; nor, if we may judge 
from some disparaging allusions to Hippias and his lectures 
in the Protagoras, did Plato at first regard it with any 
particular favour. He may have acquired some notions of 
arithmetic and geometry at school ; but the intimate acquaint- 
ance with, and deep interest in them, manifested throughout 
his later works, probably dates from his visits to Italy, Sicily, 
Cyrene, and Egypt. In each of these places the exact 
sciences were cultivated with more assiduity than at Athens ; 
in southern Italy they had been brought into close connexion 
with philosophy by a system of mystical interpretation. The 
glory of discovering their true speculative significance was 
reserved for Plato. Just as he had detected a profound 
analogy between the Socratic scepticism and the Heracleitean 
flux, so 'also, by another vivid intuition, he saw in the 
definitions and demonstrations of geometry a type of true 
reasoning, a particular application of the Socratic logic. 
Thus the two studies were brought into fruitful reaction, the 
one gaining a wider applicability, and the other an exacter 
method of proof The mathematical spirit ultimately proved 


too strong for Plato, and petrified his philosophy into a life- 
less formalism ; but no extraneous influence helped so much 
to bring about the complete maturity of his constructive 
powers, in no direction has he more profoundly influenced the 
thought of later ages. 

Both the Theactetiis and the Cratyhis contain allusions to 
mathematical reasoning, but its full significance is first 
exhibited in the Meno. Here the old question, whether 
virtue can be taught, is again raised, to be discussed from an 
entirely new point of view, and resolved into the more general 
question, Can anything be taught ? The answer is, Yes and No. 
You may stimulate the native activity of the intellect, but you 
cannot create it. Take a totally uneducated man, and, under 
proper guidance, he shall discover the truths of geometry for 
himself, by virtue of their self-evident clearness. Being 
independent of any traceable experience, the elementary 
principles of this science, of all science, must have been ac- 
quired in some antenatal period, or rather they were never 
acquired at all, they belong to the very nature of the soul 
herself. The doctrine here unfolded had a great future 
before it ; and it has never, perhaps, been discussed with so 
much eagerness as during the last half-century among our- 
selves. The masters of English thought have placed the issue 
first raised by Plato in the very front of philosophical 
controversy ; and the general public have been brought to feel 
that their dearest interests hang on its decision. The subject 
has, however, lost much of its adventitious interest to those 
who know that the d priori position was turned, a hundred 
years ago, by Kant. The philosopher of Konigsberg showed 
that, granting knowledge to be composed of two elements, 
mind adds nothing to outward experience but its own 
forms, the system of connexions according to which it 
groups phenomena. Deprive these forms of the content 
given to them by feeling, and the soul will be left beating her 
wings in a vacuum The doctrine that knowledge is not a 


dead deposit in consciousness or memory, but a living energy 
whereby phenomena are, to use Kant's words, gathered up 
into the synthetic unity of apperception, has since found a 
physiological basis in the theory of central innervation. And 
the experiential school of psychology have simultaneously 
come to recognise the existence of fixed conditions under 
which consciousness works and grows, and which, in the last 
analysis, resolve themselves into the apprehension of resem- 
blance, difference, coexistence, and succession. The most 
complex cognition involves no more than these four 
categories ; and it is probable that they all co-operate in the 
most elementary perception. 

The truths here touched on seem to have been dimly 
present to the mind of Plato. He never doubts that all 
knowledge must, in some way or other, be derived from 
experience ; and, accordingly, he assumes that what cannot 
have been learned in this world was learned in another. But 
he does not {in the Meno at least) suppose that the process 
ever had a beginning. It would seem that he is tr>nng to 
express in figurative language the distinction, lost almost as 
soon as found, between intelligence and the facts on which 
intelligence is exercised. An examination of the steps by 
which Meno's slave is brought to perceive, without being 
directly told, the truth of the Pythagorean theorem, will show 
that his share in the demonstration is limited to the intuition 
of certain numerical equalities and inequalities. Now, to Plato, 
the perception of sameness and difference meant everything. 
He would have denied that the sensible world presented ex- 
amples of these relations in their ideal absoluteness and purity. 
In tracing back their apprehension to the self-reflection of the 
soul, the consciousness of personal identity, he would not 
have transgressed the limits of a legitimate enquiry. But self- 
consciousness involved a possible abstraction from disturbing 
influences, which he interpreted as a real separation between 
mind and matter ; and, to make it more complete, an inde- 


pendent pre-cxistcnce of the former. Nor was this all. Since 
knowledge is of likeness in difference, then the central truth 
of things, the reality underlying all appearance, must be an 
abiding identity recognised by the soul through her previous 
communion with it in a purer world. The inevitable tendency 
of two identities, one subjective and the other objective, was 
to coalesce in an absolute unity where all distinctions of time 
and space would have disappeared, carrying the whole 
mythical machinery along with them ; and Plato's logic is 
always hovering on the verge of such a consummation without 
being able fully to accept it. Still, the mystical tendency, 
which it was reserved for Plotinus to carry out in its entirety, 
is always present, though restrained by other motives, 
working for the ascertainment of uniformity in theory and for 
the enforcement of uniformity in practice. 

We have accompanied Plato to a point where he begins 
to see his way towards a radical reconstruction of all existing 
beliefs and institutions. In the next chapter we shall attempt 
to show how far he succeeded in this great purpose, how 
much, in his positive contributions to thought is of permanent, 
and how much of merely biographical or literary value. 





In the last chapter we considered the philosophy of Plato 
chiefly under its critical and negative aspects. We saw how 
it was exclusively from that side that he at first apprehended 
and enlarged the dialectic of Socrates, how deeply his scepti- 
cism was coloured by the religious reaction of the age, and 
how he attempted, out o{ his master's mouth, to overturn the 
positive teaching of the master himself. We saw how, in the 
Protagoras, he sketched a theory of ethics, which was no 
sooner completed than it became the starting-point of a still 
more extended and arduous enquiry. We followed the 
Avidening horizon of his speculations until they embraced the 
whole contemporary life of Hellas, and involved it in a 
common condemnation as either hopelessly corrupt, or con- 
taining within itself the seeds of corruption. We then saw 
how, by a farther generalisation, he was led to look for the 
sources of error in the laws of man's sensuous nature and of 
the phenomenal world with which it holds communion ; how, 
moreover, under the guidance of suggestions coming both 
from within and from without, he reverted to the earlier 
schools of Greek thought, and brought their results into 
parallelism with the main lines of vSocratic dialectic. And 
finally, we watched him planting a firm foothold on the basis 
of mathematical demonstration ; seeking in the very constitu- 
tion of the soul itself for a derivation of the truths which 
.sensuous experience could not impart, and winning back from 


a more profoundly reasoned religion the hope, the self-con- 
fidence, the assurance of perfect knowledge, which had been 
formerly surrendered in deference to the demands of a merely 
external and traditional faith. That God alone is wise, and, 
by consequence alone good, might still remain a fixed prin- 
ciple with Plato ; but it ceased to operate as a restraint on 
human aspiration when he had come to recognise an essential 
unity among all forms of conscious life, which, though it 
might be clouded and forgotten, could never be entirely effaced. 
And when Plato tells us, at the close of his career, that God, 
far more than any individual man, is the measure of all things/ 
who can doubt that he had already learned to identify the 
human and divine essences in the common notion of a uni- 
versal soul ? 

The germ of this new dogmatism was present in Plato's 
mind from the very beginning, and was partly an inheritance 
ftom older forms of thought. The Apologia had reproduced 
one important feature in the positive teaching of Socrates — 
the distinction between soul and body, and the necessity of 
attending to the former rather than to the latter : and this 
had now acquired such significance as to leave no standing- 
room for the agnosticism with which it had been incompatible 
from the first. The same irresistible force of expansion which 
had brought the human soul into communion with absolute 
truth, was to be equally verified in a difl*erent direction. 
Plato was too much interested in practical questions to be 
diverted from them long by any theoretical philosophy ; or, 
perhaps, we should rather say that this interest had accom- 
panied and inspired him throughout. It is from the essential 
relativity of mind, the profound craving for intellectual sym- 
pathy with other minds, that all mystical imaginations and 
super-subtle abstractions take rise ; so that, when the strain of 
transcendent absorption and ecstasy is relaxed under the chill- 
ing but beneficent contact of earthly experience, they become 

' Lcgg. 716, C. 


condensed into ideas for the reconstitution of life and society 
on a basis of reciprocity, of self-restraint, and of self-devotion 
to a ccmmonvvealth greater and more enduring than any 
individual, while, at the same time, presenting to each in 
objective form the principle by virtue of which only, instead 
of being divided, he can become reconciled with himself. 
Here we have the creed of all philosophy, whether theological, 
metaphysical, or positive, that there is, or that there should 
be, this threefold unity of feeling, of action, and of thought, of 
the soul, of society, and of universal existence, to win which is 
everlasting life, while to be without it is everlasting death. 
This creed must be re-stated and re-interpretcd at every revo- 
lution of thought. We have to see how it was, for the first 
time, stated and interpreted by Plato. 

The principal object of Plato's negative criticism had been 
to emphasise the distinction between reality and appearance 
in the world without, between sense, or imagination, and 
reason in the human soul. True to the mediatorial spirit of 
Greek thought, his object now was to bridge over the seem- 
ingly impassable gulf. We must not be understood to say 
that these two distinct, and to some extent contrasted, tend- 
encies correspond to two definitely divided periods of his 
life. It is evident that the tasks of dissection and reconstruc- 
tion were often carried on conjointly, and represented two 
aspects of an indivisible process. But on the whole there is 
good reason to believe that Plato, like other men, was more 
inclined to pull to pieces in his youth and to build up in his 
later days. We are, therefore, disposed to agree with those 
critics who assign both the PJiacdrus and the Syinposijun to a 
comparatively advanced stage of Platonic speculation. It is 
less easy to decide which of the two was composed first, for 
there seems to be a greater maturity of thought in the one 
and of style in the other. For our purposes it will be most 
convenient to consider them together. 

Wc have seen how Plato came to look on mathematics as 


au introductipiitrt absolute knowledge. He now discovered a 
parallel method of approach towards perfect wisdom in an 
order of experience which to most persons might seem as far 
as possible removed from exact science — in those passionate 
feelings which were excited in the Greek imagination by the 
spectacle of youthful beauty, without distinction of sex. 
There was, at least among the Athenians, a strong intellect- 
ual element in the attachments arising out of such feelings ; 
and the strange anomaly might often be seen of a man devot- 
ing himself to the education of a youth whom he was, in 
other respects, doing his utmost to corrupt. Again, the beauty 
by which a Greek felt most fascinated came nearer to a visible 
embodiment of mind than any that has ever been known, and 
as such could be associated with the purest philosophical 
aspirations. And, finally, the passion of love in its normal 
manifestations is an essentially generic instinct, being that 
which carries an individual most entirely out of himself, mak- 
ing him instrumental to the preservation of the race in forms 
of ever-increasing comeliness and vigour ; so that, given a 
wise training and a wide experience, the maintenance of a 
noble breed may safely be entrusted to its infallible selection.' 
All these points of view have been developed by Plato with 
such copiousness of illustration and splendour of language that 
his name is still associated in popular fancy with an ideal of 
exalted and purified desire. 

So far, however, we only stand on the threshold of Platonic 
love. The earthly passion, being itself a kind of generalisa- 
tion, is our first step in the ascent to that highest stage of 
existence where wisdom and virtue and happiness are one — the 
good to which all other goods are related as means to an end. 
But love is not only an introduction to philosophy, it is a type 
of philosophy itself Both are conditions intermediate between 
vacuity and fulfilment ; desire being by its very nature dis- 

' Sec the chapter on the Metaphysics of Sexual Love in Schopenhauer's 
Well ids IVille and Vorstellunc. 


satisfied, and vanishing at the instant that its object is 
attained. The philosopher is a lover of wisdom, and there- 
fore not wise ; and yet not wholly ignorant, for he knows that 
he knows nothing. Thus we seem to be thrown back on the 
standpoint of Plato's earliest agnosticism. Nevertheless, if 
the Symposmin agrees nominally with the Apologia, in 
reality it marks a much more advanced point of speculation. 
The idea of what knowledge is has begun to assume a much 
clearer expression. We gather from various hints and sug- 
gestions that it is the perception of likeness ; the very process 
of ascending generalisation typified by intellectual love. 

It is worthy of remark that in the Platonic Eros we have 
the germ — or something more than the germ — of Aristotle's 
whole metaphysical system.' According to the usual law of 
speculative evolution, what was subjective in the one becomes 
objective in the other. With Plato the passion for knowledge 
had been merely the guiding principle of a few chosen spirits. 
With Aristotle it is the living soul of Nature, the secret spring 
of movement, from the revolution of the outermost starry 
sphere to the decomposition and recomposition of our mut- 
able terrestrial elements ; and from these again through the 
whole scale of organic life, up to the moral culture of man 
and the search for an ideally-constituted state. What enables 
all these myriad movements to continue through eternity, 
returning ever in an unbroken circle on themselves, is the 
yearning of unformed matter — that is to say, of unrealised 
. power — towards the absolute unchanging actuality, the self- 
thinking thought, unmoved, but moving every other form of 
existence by the desire to participate in its ineffable perfection. 
Korn of the Hellenic enthusiasm for beauty, this wonderful 
conception subsequently became incorporated with the official 
teaching of Catholic theology. What had once been a theme 

' Cf. for the whole following passage Ilavet, Le Christianisnie ct ses Origincs, 
I., 286-8. Il was, however, written before the author had become acquainted 
vvith M. Ilavct's work. 


for ribald merriment or for rhetorical ostentation among the 
golden youth of Athens, furnished the motive for his most 
transcendent meditations to the Angel of the Schools ; but the 
fire which lurked under the dusty abstractions of Aquinas 
needed the touch of a poet and a lover before it could be 
rekindled into flame. The eyes of Beatrice completed what 
the dialectic of Plato had begun ; and the hundred cantos of 
her adorer found their fitting close in the love that moves the 
sun and the other stars. 

We must, however, observe that, underlying all these 
poetical imaginations, there is a deeper and wider law of 
human nature to which they unconsciously bear witness — the 
intimate connexion of religious mysticism with the passion of 
love. By this we do not mean the constant interference of 
the one with the other, whether for the purpose of stimulation, 
as with the naturalistic religions, or for the purpose of restraint, 
as with the ethical religions ; but we mean that they seem to 
divide between them a common fund of nervous energy, so 
that sometimes their manifestations are inextricably con- 
founded, as in certain debased forms of modern Christianity ; 
sometimes they utterly exclude one another ; and sometimes, 
which is the most frequent case of any, the one is transformed 
into the other, their substantial identity and continuity being 
indicated very frankly by their use of the same language, the 
same ritual, and the same aesthetic decoration. And this 
will show how the decay of religious belief may be accom- 
panied by an outbreak of moral licence, without our being 
obliged to draw the inference that passion can only be held 
in check by irrational beliefs, or by organisations whose supre- 
macy is fatal to industrial, political, and intellectual progress. 
For, if our view of the case be correct, the passion was not 
really restrained, but only turned in a different direction, and 
frequently nourished into hysterical excess ; so that, with the 
inevitable decay of theology, it returns to its old haunts, 
bringing with it seven devils worse than the first. After the 


Crusades came the Courts of Love ; after the Domhiican and 
Franciscan movements, the Renaissance ; after Puritanism, 
the Restoration ; after Jesuitism, the Regency. Nor is this 
all. The passion of which we are speaking, when abnormally- 
developed and unbalanced by severe intellectual exercise, is 
habitually accompanied by delirious jealousy, by cruelty, and 
by deceit. On taking the form of religion, the influence of 
its evil associates immediately becomes manifest in the sup- 
pression of alien creeds, in the tortures inflicted on their 
adherents, and in the maxim that no faith need be kept with 
a heretic. Persecution has been excused on the ground that 
any means were justifiable for the purpose of saving souls 
from eternal torment. But how came it to be believed that 
such a consequence was involved in a mere error of judgment ? 
The faith did not create the intolerance, but the intolerance 
created the faith, and so gave an idealised expression to the 
jealous fury accompanying a passion which no spiritual 
alchemy can purify from its original affinities. It is not by 
turning this most terrible instinct towards a supernatural 
object that we should combat it, but by developing the active 
and masculine in preference to the emotional and feminine 
side of our nervous organisation.^ 

In addition to its other great lessons, the Symposium 
has afforded Plato an opportunity for contrasting his own 
method of philosophising with pre-Socratic modes of thought. 
For it consists of a series of discourses in praise of love, so 
arranged as to typify the manner in which Greek speculation, 
after beginning with mythology, subsequently advanced to 
physical theories of phenomena, then passed from the historical 
to the contemporary method, asking, not whence did things 
come, but what are they in themselves ; and finally arrived 
at the logical standpoint of analysis, classification, and in- 

' In order to avoid misconception it may be as well to mention thai the above 
remarks apply only to mystical passion assuming the form of religion ; they have 
nothing to do with intellectual and moral convictions. 


The nature of dialectic- is stilL further elucidated in the 
Phaedriis, where it is also contrasted with the method, or 
rather the no-method, of popular rhetoric. Here, again, dis- 
cussions about love are chosen as an illustration. A discourse 
on the subject by no less a writer than Lysias is quoted and 
shown to be deficient in the most elementary requisites of 
logical exposition. The different arguments are strung to- 
gether without any principle of arrangement, and ambiguous 
terms are used without being defined. In insisting on the 
necessity of definition, Plato followed Socrates ; but he defines 
according to a totally different method. Socrates had arrived 
at his general notions partly by a comparison of particular 
instances with a view to eliciting the points where they agreed, 
partly by amending the conceptions already in circulation. 
We have seen that the earliest Dialogues attributed to Plato 
are one long exposure of the difficulties attending such a pro- 
cedure ; and his subsequent investigations all went to prove 
that nothing solid could be built on such shifting foundations 
as sense and opinion. Meanwhile increasing familiarity with 
the great ontological systems had taught him to begin with 
the most general notions, and to work down from them to the 
most particular. The consequence was that dialectic came to 
mean nothing but classification or logical division. Definition 
was absorbed into this process, and reasoning by syllogism 
was not yet differentiated from it. To tell what a thing was, 
meant to fix its place in the universal order of existence, and 
its individual existence was sufficiently accounted for by the 
same determination. If we imagine first a series of concentric 
circles, then a series of contrasts symmetrically disposed on 
either side of a central dividing line, and finally a series of 
transitions descending from the most absolute unity to the 
most irregular diversity — we shall, by combining the three 
schemes, arrive at some understanding of the Platonic dia- 
lectic. To assign anything its place in these various sequences 
was at once to define it and to demonstrate the necessity of 


its existence. The arrangement is also equivalent to a theory 
of final causes ; for everything has a function to perform, 
marked out by its position, and bringing it into relation with 
the universal order. Such a system would inevitably lead to 
the denial of evil, were not evil itself interpreted as the neces- 
sary correlative of good, or as a necessary link in the descend- 
ing manifestations of reality. Moreover, by virtue of his 
identifying principle, Plato saw in the lowest forms a shadow 
or reflection of the highest. Hence the many surprises, con- 
cessions, and returns to abandoned positions which we find in 
his later writings. The three moments of Greek thought, 
-circumscription, antithesis, and mediation, work in such close 
union, or with such bewildering rapidity of alternation, through 
all his dialectic, that we are never sure whither he is leading 
us, and not always sure that he knows it himself. 

In the opening chapter of this work we endeavoured to 
explain how the Pythagorean philosophy arose out of the in- 
toxicated delight inspired by a first acquaintance with the 
manifold properties of number and figure. If we would enter 
into the spirit of Platonism, we must similarly throw ourselves 
back into the time when the idea of a universal classification 
first dawned on men's minds. We must remember how it 
gratified the Greek love of order combined with individuality ; 
what unbounded opportunities for asking and answering 
questions it supplied ; and what promises of practical regenera- 
tion it held out. Not without a shade of sadness for so many 
baffled efforts and so many blighted hopes, yet also with a 
grateful recollection of all that reason has accomplished, and 
with something of his own high intellectual enthusiasm, shall 
we listen to Plato's prophetic words — words of deeper import 
than their own author knew — ' If I find any man who is able 
to see a One and Many in Nature, him I follow and walk in 
his steps as if he were a god.' ' 

' JViacdr., 266, B. Jowett, II., 144. According to Teichmiiiler (Z?V(?ra;7Vr//£ 
Fehden hit vierten Jahrhiindcii vor Clir., p. 135) — the god here spoken of is no 


It is interesting to see how the most comprehensive 
systems of the present century, even when most opposed to 
the metaphysical spirit, are still constructed on the plan long 
ago sketched by Plato. Alike in his classification of the 
sciences, in his historical deductions, and in his plans for the 
reorganisation of society, Auguste Comte adopts a scheme of 
ascending or descending generality. The conception of dif- 
ferentiation and integration employed both by Hegel and by 
Mr. Herbert Spencer is also of Platonic origin ; only, what 
with the ancient thinker was a statical law of order has 
become with his modern successors a dynamic law of progress ; 
while, again, there is this distinction between the German 
and the English philosopher, that the former construes as suc- 
cessive moments of the Idea what the latter regards as simul- 
taneous and interdependent processes of evolution. 


The study of psychology with Plato stands in a fourfold 
relation to his general theory of the world. The dialectic 
method, without which Nature would remain unintelligible, is 

a function of the soul, and constitutes its most essential 

activity ; then soul, as distinguished from body, represents 
the higher, supersensual element of existence ; thirdly, the 
objective dualism of reality and appearance is reproduced in 
the subjective dualism of reason and sense ; and lastly, soul, 
as the original spring of movement, mediates between the 
eternal entities which are unmoved and the material pheno- 
mena which are subject to a continual flux. It is very 
characteristic of Plato that he first strains an antithesis to the 
utmost and then endeavours to reconcile its extremes by the 
interposition of one or more intermediate links. So, while 
assigning this office to soul as a part of the universe, he 

other than Pinto himself. Even granting the pantheistic interpretation of Flaton- 
ism to he true, this seems a sotncwhat strained application of it. 


classifies the psychic functions themselves according to a 
similar principle. On the intellectual side he places true 
opinion, or what we should now call empirical knowledge, 
midway between demonstration and sense-perception. Such 
at least seems the result reached in the Thcaetetus and 
the Meuo. In the Republic a further analysis leads to a 
somewhat different arrangement. Opinion is placed between 
knowledge and ignorance ; while the possible objects to which 
it corresponds form a transition from being to not-being. 
Subsequently mathematical reasoning is distinguished from 
the higher science which takes cognisance of first principles, 
and thus serves to connect it with simple opinion ; \\'hile this 
again, dealing as it does with material objects, is related to 
the knowledge of their shadows as the most perfect science is 
related to mathematics.' 

Turning from dialectic to ethics, Plato in like manner feels 
the need of interposing a mediator between reason and 
appetite. The quality chosen for this purpose he calls Ovjios, 
a term which does not, as has been erroneously supposed, 
correspond to our word Will, but rather to pride, or the 
feeling of personal honour. It is both the seat of military 
courage and the natural auxiliary of reason, with which it 
co-operates in restraining the animal desires. It is a charac- 
teristic difference between Socrates and Plato that the former 
should have habitually reinforced his arguments for virtue by 
appeals to self-interest ; while the latter, with his aristocratic 
way of looking at things, prefers to enlist the aid of a 
haughtier feeling on their behalf. Aristotle followed in the 
same track when he taught that to be overcome by anger is 
less discreditable than to be overcome by desire. In reality 
none of the instincts tending to self-preservation is more 
praiseworthy than another, or more amenable to the control 
of reason. Plato's tripartite division of mind cannot be made 

' Adapting Plato's formula to modern ideas we might say : A literary educa- 
tion : knowledge of the world ; ; mathematics : physical science. 


to fit into the classifications of modern psychology, which are 
adapted not only to a more advanced state of knowledge but 
also to more complex conditions of life. But the characters 
of women, by their greater simplicity and uniformity, show to 
some extent what those of men may once have been ; and it 
will, perhaps, confirm the analysis of the Phaedrns to recall 
the fact that personal pride is still associated with moral 
principle in the guardianship of female virtue. 

If the soul served to connect the eternal realities with the 
fleeting appearances by which they were at once darkened, 
relieved, and shadowed forth, it was also a bond of union 
between the speculative and the practical philosophy of Plato ; 
and in discussing his psychology we have already passed 
from the one to the other. The transition will become still 
easier if we remember that the question, ' What is know- 
ledge .'' ' was, according to our view, originally suggested by a 
theory reducing ethical science to a hedonistic calculus, and 
that along with it would arise another question, ' What is 
pleasure .-• ' This latter enquiry, though incidentally touched 
on elsewhere, is not fully dealt with in any Dialogue except 
the PJiilebus, which we agree with Prof. Jowett in referring to 
a very late period of Platonic authorship. But the line of 
argument which it pursues had probably been long familiar 
to our philosopher. At any rate, the Phaedo, the Republic^ 
and perhaps the Gorgias, assume, as already proved, that 
pleasure is not the highest good. The question is one on 
which thinkers are still divided. It seems, indeed, to lie 
outside the range of reason, and the disputants are accord- 
ingly obliged to invoke the authority either of individual 
consciousness or of common consent on behalf of their 
respective opinions. We have, however, got so far beyond 
the ancients that the doctrine of egoistic hedonism has been 
abandoned by almost everybody. The substitution of 
another's pleasure for our own as the object of pursuit was 
not a conception which presented itself to any Greek moralist. 



although the principle of self-sacrifice was maintained by 
some of them, and especially by Plato, to its fullest extent. 
Pleasure-seeking being inseparably associated with selfishness, 
the latter was best attacked through the former, and if Plato's 
logic does not commend itself to our understanding, we must 
admit that it was employed in defence of a noble cause. 

The style of polemics adopted on this occasion, whatever 
else may be its value, will serve excellently to illustrate the 
general dialectic method of attack. When Plato particularly 
disliked a class of persons, or an institution, or an art, or a 
theory, or a state of consciousness, he tried to prove that it 
was confused, unstable, and self -contradictory ; besides taking 
full advantage of any discredit popularly attached to it. All 
these objections are brought to bear with full force against 
pleasure. Some pleasures are delusive, since the reality of 
them falls far short of the anticipation ; all pleasure is essen- 
tially transitory, a perpetual becoming, never a fixed state, 
ana therefore not an end of action ; pleasures which ensue on 
the satisfaction of desires are necessarily accompanied by 
pains and disappear simultaneously with them ; the most 
intense, and for that reason the most typical, pleasures, are 
associated with feelings of shame, and their enjoyment is care- 
fully hidden out of sight. 

Such arguments have almost the air of an afterthought, 
and Plato was perhaps more powerfully swayed by other con- 
siderations, which we shall now proceed to analyse. When 
pleasure was assumed to be the highest good, knowledge 
was agreed to be the indispensable means for its attainment ; 
and, as so often happens, the means gradually substituted 
itself for the end. Nor was this all ; for knowledge (or 
reason) being not only the means but the supreme arbiter, 
when called on to adjudicate between conflicting claims, 
would naturally pronounce in its own favour. Naturally, also, 
a moralist who made science the chief interest of his own life 
Avould come to believe that it was the proper object of all 


life, whether attended or not by any pleasurable emotion. 
And so, in direct opposition to the utilitarian theory, Plato 
declares at last that to brave a lesser pain in order to escape 
from a greater, or to renounce a lesser pleasure in order to 
secure a greater, is cowardice and intemperance in disguise ; 
and that wisdom, which he had formerly regarded as a means 
to other ends, is the one end for which everything else should 
be exchanged.' Perhaps it may have strengthened him in 
this attitude to observe that the many, whose opinion he so 
thoroughly despised, made pleasure their aim in life, while 
the fastidious few preferred knowledge. Yet, after a time, 
even the latter alternative failed to satisfy his restless spirit. 
For the conception of knowledge resolved itself into the 
deeper conceptions of a knowing subject and a known object, 
the soul and the universe, each of which became in turn the 
supreme ideal. What interpretation should be given to 
virtue depended on the choice between them. According to 
the one view it was a purification of the higher principle within 
us from material wants and passions. Sensual gratifications 
should be avoided, because they tend to degrade and pollute 
the soul. Death should be fearlessly encountered, because it 
will release her from the restrictions of bodily existence. But 
Plato had too strong a grasp on the realities of life to remain 
satisfied with a purely ascetic morality. Knowledge, on the 
objective side, brought him into relation with an organised 
universe where each individual existed, not for his own sake 
but for the sake of the whole, to fulfil a definite function in 
the system of which he formed a part. And if from one 
point of view the soul herself was an absolutely simple indi- 
visible substance, from another point of view she reflected the 
external order, and only fulfilled the law of her being when 
each separate faculty was exercised within its appropriate 

There still remained one last problem to solve, one point 

' riiacdo, 69, A. Jowett, I., 442. 
Q 2 


where the converging streams of ethical and metaphysical 
speculation met and mixed. ^ Granted that knowledge is the 
soul's highest energy, what is the object of this beatific 
vision ? Granted that all particular energies co-operate for a 
common purpose, what is the end to which they are subor- 
dinated ? Granted that dialectic leads us up through ascending 
gradations to one all-comprehensive idea, how is that idea to 
be defined ? Plato only attempts to answer this last question 
by re-stating it under the form of an illustration. As the sun 
at once gives life to all Nature, and light to the eye by which 
Nature is perceived, so also the idea of Good is the cause of 
existence and of knowledge alike, but transcends them both 
as an absolute unity, of which we cannot even say that it 
is, for the distinction of subject and predicate would bring 
back relativity and plurality again. Here we seem to have the' 
Socratic paradox reversed. Socrates identified virtue with 
knowledge, but, at the same time, entirely emptied the latter 
of its speculative content. Plato, inheriting the idea of 
knowledge in its artificially restricted significance, was irre- 
sistibly drawn back to the older philosophy whence it had 
been originally borrowed ; then, just as his master had given 
an ethical application to science, so did he, travelling over the 
same ground in an opposite direction, extend the theory of 
ethics far beyond its legitimate range, until a principle which 
seemed to have no meaning, except in reference to human 
conduct, became the abstract bond of union between all 
reality and all thought. 

Whether Plato ever succeeded in making the idea of Good 
quite clear to others, or even to himself, is more than we can 
tell. In the Republic he declines giving further explanations 
on the ground that his pupils have not passed through the 
necessary mathematical initiation. Whether quantitative 
reasoning was to furnish the form or the matter of transcend- 
ent dialectic is left undetermined. We are told that on one 
occasion a large audience assembled to hear Plato lecture on 


the Good, but that, much to their disappointment, the dis- 
course was entirely filled with geometrical and astronomical 
investigations. Bearing in mind, however, that mathematical 
science deals chiefly with equations, and that astronomy, 
according to Plato, had for its object to prove the absolute 
uniformity of the celestial motions, we may perhaps conclude 
that the idea of Good meant no more than the abstract 
notion of identity or indistinguishable likeness. The more 
complex idea of law as a uniformity of relations, whether co- 
existent or successive, had not then dawned, but it has since 
been similarly employed to bring physics into harmony with 
ethics and logic. / 


So far we have followed the evolution of Plato's philo- 
sophy as it may have been effected under the impulse of 
purely theoretical motives. We have now to consider what 
form was imposed on it by the more imperious exigencies of 
practical experience. Here, again, we find Plato taking up 
and continuing the work of Socrates, but on a vastly greater 
scale. There was, indeed, a kind of pre-established harmony 
between the expression of thought on the one hand and the 
increasing need for its application to life on the other. For 
the spread of public corruption had gone on paj^i passu with. 
the development of philosophy. The teaching of Socrates 
was addressed to individuals, and dealt chiefly with private 
morality. On other points he was content to accept the law 
of the land and the established political constitution as 
sufficiently safe guides. He was not accustomed to see 
them defied or perverted into instruments of selfish aggrand- 
isement ; nor, apparently, had the possibility of such a 
contingency occurred to him. Still less did he imagine that 
all social institutions then existing were radically wrong. 
Hence the personal virtues held a more important place in 
his system than the social virtues. His attacks were directed 


against slothfulness and self-indulgence, against the ignorant 
temerity which hurried some young men into politics before 
their education was finished, and the timidity or fastidious- 
ness which prevented others from discharging the highest 
duties of citizenship. Nor, in accepting the popular religion 
of his time, had he any suspicion that its sanctions might be 
invoked on behalf of successful violence and fraud. We have 
already shown how differently Plato felt towards his age, and 
how much deeper as well as more shameless was the de- 
moralisation with which he set himself to contend. It must 
also be remembered how judicial proceedings had come to 
overshadow every other public interest ; and how the highest 
culture ot the time had, at least in his eyes, become identified 
with the systematic perversion of truth and right. These 
considerations will explain why Greek philosophy, while 
moving on a higher plane, passed through the same orbit 
which had been previously described by Greek poetry. Pre- 
cisely as the lessons of moderation in Homer had been 
followed by the lessons of justice in Aeschylus, precisely as 
the religion which was a selfish traffic between gods and men, 
and had little to tell of a life beyond the grave, was replaced 
by the nobler faith in a divine guardianship of morality and 
a retributive judgment after death — -so also did the Socratic 
ethics and the Socratic theology lead to a system which 
made justice the essence of morality and religion its ever- 
lasting consecration. 

Temperance and justice are very clearly distinguished in 
our minds. The one is mainly a self-regarding, the other 
mainly a social virtue. But it would be a mistake to suppose 
that the distinction was equally clear to Plato. He had 
learned from Socrates that all virtue is one. He found him- 
self confronted by men who pointedly opposed interest to 
honour and expediency to fair-dealing, without making any 
secret of their preference for the former. Here, as elsewhere, 
he laboured to dissolve away the vulgar antithesis and to 


substitute for it a deeper one — the antithesis between real 
and apparent goods. He was quite ready to imagine the 
case of a man who might have to incur all sorts of suffering 
in the practice of justice even to the extent of infamy, torture, 
and death ; but without denying that these were evils, he held 
that to practise injustice with the accompaniment of worldly 
prosperity was a greater evil still. And this conviction is 
quite unconnected with his belief in a future life. He would 
not have agreed with St. Paul that virtue is a bad calculation 
without the hope of a reward for it hereafter. His morality 
is absolutely independent of any extrinsic considerations. 
Nevertheless, he holds that in our own interest we should do 
what is right ; and it never seems to have entered his 
thoughts that there could be any other motive for doing it 
We have to explain how such a paradox was possible. 

Plato seems to have felt very strongly that all virtuous 
action tends towards a good exceeding in value any tem- 
porary sacrifice which it may involve ; and the accepted 
connotation of ethical terms went entirely along with this 
belief. But he could not see that a particular action might 
be good for the community at large and bad for the individual 
who performed it, not in a different sense but in the very 
same sense, as involving a diminution of his happiness. For 
from Plato's abstract and generalising point of view all good 
was homogeneous, and the welfare of the individual was 
absolutely identified with the welfare of the whole to which 
he belonged. As against those who made right dependent 
on might and erected self-indulgence into the law of life 
Plato occupied an impregnable position. He showed that 
such principles made society impossible, and that without 
honour even a gang of thieves cannot hold together.' He 
also saw that it is reason which brings each individual into 
relation with the whole and enables him to understand his 
obligations towards it ; but at the same time he gave this 
• Repub., I., 348, B ff, ; Zeller, op. cil., 507-8. 


reason a personal character which does not properly belong 
to it ; or, what comes to the same thing, he treated human 
beings as pure entia rationis, thus unwittingly removing the 
necessity for having any morality at all. On his assumption 
it would be absurd to break the law ; but neither would there 
be any temptation to break it, nor would any unpleasant 
consequences follow on its violation. Plato speaks of injustice 
as an injury to the soul's health, and therefore as the greatest 
evil that can befall a human being, without observing that 
the inference involves a confusion of teims. For his argu- 
ment requires that soul should mean both the whole of 
conscious life and the system of abstract notions through 
which we communicate and co-operate with our fellow- 
creatures. All crime is a serious disturbance to the latter, for 
it cannot without absurdity be made the foundation of a 
general rule ; but, apart from penal consequences, it does not 
impair, and may benefit the former. 

While Plato identified the individual with the community 
by slurring over the possible divergence of their interests, he 
still further contributed to their logical confusion by resolving 
the ego into a multitude of conflicting faculties and impulses 
supposed to represent the different classes of which a State is 
made up. His opponents held that justice and law emanate 
from the ruling power in the body politic ; and they were 
brought to admit that supreme power is properly vested in the 
wisest and best citizens. Transferring these principles to the 
inner forum, he maintained that a psychological aristocracy 
could only be established by giving reason a similar control 
over the animal passions.^ At first sight, this seemed to 
imply no more than a return to the standpoint of Socrates, or 
of Plato himself in the Protagoras. The man who indulges 
his desires within the limits prescribed by a regard for their 
safe satisfaction through his whole life, may be called temper- 
ate and reasonable, but he is not necessarily just. If, how- 

' See especially the argument with Callicles in the Gorgias. 


ever, we identify the paramount authority within with the 
paramount authority without, we shall have to admit that 
there is a faculty of justice in the individual soul correspond- 
ing to the objective justice of political law ; and since the 
supreme virtue is agreed on all hands to be reason, we must 
go a step further, and admit that justice is reason, or that it 
is reasonable to be just ; and that by consequence the height 
of injustice is the height of folly. Moreover, this fallacious 
substitution of justice for temperance was facilitated by the 
circumstance that although the former virtue is not involved 
in the latter, the latter is to a very great extent involved in the 
former. Self-control by no means carries with it a respect for 
the rights of others ; but where such respect exists it necessi- 
tates a considerable amount of self-control. 

We trust that the steps of a difficult argument have been 
made clear by the foregoing analysis; and that the whole 
process has been shown to hinge on the ambiguous use of such 
notions as the individual and the community, of which the one 
is paradoxically construed as a plurality and the other as a 
unity ; justice, which is alternately taken in the sense of con- 
trol exercised by the worthiest, control of passion in the 
general interest, control of our passions in the interest of others, 
and control of the same passions in our own interest ; and wis- 
dom or reason, which sometimes means any kind of excellence, 
sometimes the excellence of a harmonious society, and some- 
times the excellence of a well-balanced mind. Thus, out of 
self-regard ing virtue social virtue is elicited, the whole process 
being ultimately conditioned by that identifying power Vi liich 
was at once the strength and the weakness of Plato's genius. 

Plato knew perfectly well that although rhetoricians and 
men of the world might be silenced, they could not be con- 
verted nor even convinced by such arguments as these. So 
far from thinking it possible to reason men into virtue, he has 
observed of those who are slaves to their senses that you must 
improve them before you can teach them the truth. And he 


felt that if the complete assimilation of the individual and the 
community was to become more than a mere logical formula, 
it must be effected by a radical reform in the training of the 
one and in the institutions of the other. Accordingly, he set 
himself to elaborate a scheme for the purpose, our knowledge 
of which is chiefly derived from his greatest work, the i?^«^//V. 
We have already made large use of the negative criticism 
scattered through that Dialogue ; we have now to examine the 
positive teaching by which it was supplemented. 


Plato, like Socrates, makes religious instruction the basis 
of educationJ But where the master had been content to set 
old beliefs on a new basis of demonstration, the disciple aimed 
at nothing less than their complete purification from irrational 
and immoral ingredients. He lays down two great principles, 
that God is good, and that He is true.^ Every story which is 
inconsistent with such a character must be rejected ; so also 
must everything in the poets which redounds to the discredit 
of the national heroes, together with everything tending in the 
remotest degree to make vice attractive or virtue repellent. 
It is evident that Plato, like Xenophanes, repudiated not only 
the scandalous details of popular mythology, but also the 
anthropomorphic conceptions which lay at its foundation ; 
although he did not think it advisable to state his unbelief 
with equal frankness. His own theology was a sort of star- 
worship, and he proved the divinity of the heavenly bodies by 
an appeal to the uniformity of their movements.^ He further 
taught that the world was created by an absolutely good 
Being ; but we cannot be sure that this was more than a 
popular version of the theory which placed the abstract idea 
of Good at the summit of the dialectic series. The truth is 
that there are two distinct types of religion, the one chiefly 

' Rcptib., II., 379, A ; 3S0, D. ^ Zeller, 678-8. 


interested in the existence and attributes of God, the other 
chiefly interested in the destiny of the human soul. The former 
is best represented by Judaism, the latter by Buddhism. Plato 
belongs to the psychic rather than to the theistic type. The 
doctrine of immortality appears again and again in his Dia- 
logues, and one of the most beautiful among them is entirely 
devoted to proving it. He seems throughout to be conscious 
that he is arguing in favour of a paradox. Here, at least, 
there are no appeals to popular prejudice such as figure so 
largely in similar discussions among ourselves. The belief in 
immortality had long been stirring ; but it had not taken deep 
root among the Ionian Greeks. We cannot even be sure that 
it was embraced as a consoling hope by any but the highest 
minds anywhere in Hellas, or by them for more than a brief 
period. It would be easy to maintain that this arose from 
some natural incongeniality to the Greek imagination in 
thoughts which drew it away from the world of sense and the 
delights of earthly life. But the explanation breaks down im- 
mediately when we attempt to verify it by a wider experience. 
No modern nation enjoys life so keenly as the French. Yet, 
quite apart from traditional dogmas, there is no nation that 
counts so many earnest supporters of the belief in a spiritual 
existence beyond the grave. And, to take an individual 
example, it is just the keen relish which Mr. Browning's Cleon 
has for every sort of enjoyment which makes him shrink back 
with horror from the thought of annihilatiom, and grasp at any 
promise of a happiness to be prolonged through eternity. A 
closer examination is needed to show us by what causes the 
current of Greek thought was swayed. 

The great religious movement of the sixth and fifth 
centuries — chiefly represented for us by the names of Pytha- 
goras, Aeschylus, and Pindar — would in all probability have 
entirely won over the educated classes, and given definiteness 
to the half-articulate utterances of popular tradition, had it 
not been arrested prematurely by the development of physical 


speculation. We showed in the first chapter that Greek 
philosophy in its earliest stages was entirely materialistic. It 
differed, indeed, from modern materialism in holding that the 
soul, or seat of conscious life, is an entity distinct from the 
body ; but the distinction was one between a grosser and a 
finer matter, or else between a simpler and a more complex 
arrangement of the same matter, not between an extended 
and an indivisible substance. Whatever theories, then, were 
entertained with respect to the one would inevitably come to 
be entertained also with respect to the other. Now, with the 
exception of the Eleates, who denied the reality of change 
and separation altogether, every school agreed in teaching 
that all particular bodies are formed either by differentiation 
or by decomposition and recomposition out of the same 
primordial elements. From this it followed, as a natural 
consequence, that, although the whole mass of matter was 
eternal, each particular aggregate of matter must perish in 
order to release the elements required for the formation of 
new aggregates. It is obvious that, assuming the soul to be 
material, its immortality was irreconcilable wath such a 
doctrine as this. A combination of four elements and two 
conflicting forces, such as Empedocles supposed the human 
mind to be, could not possibly outlast the organism in which 
it was enclosed ; and if Empedocles himself, by an incon- 
sistency not uncommon with men of genius, refused to draw 
the only legitimate conclusion from his own principles, the 
discrepancy could not fail to force itself on his successors. 
Still more fatal to the belief in a continuance of personal 
identity after death was the theory put forward by Diogenes 
of Apollonia, that there is really no personal identity even in 
life — that consciousness is only maintained by a perpetual in- 
halation of the vital air in which all reason resides. The soul 
very literally left the body with the last breath, and had a poor 
chance of holding together afterwards, especially, as the wits 
observed, if a high wind happened to be blowing at the time. 


It would appear that even in the Pythagorean school 

there had been a reaction against a doctrine which its founder 

had been the first to popularise in Hellas. The Pythagoreans 

had always attributed great importance to the conceptions of 

harmony and numerical proportion ; and they soon came to 

think of the soul as a ratio which the different elements of ihc 

animal body bore to one another ; or as a musical concord 

resulting from the joint action of its various members, which 

might be compared to the strings of a lute. But 

* When the lute is broken 
Sweet tones are remembered not.' 

And so, with the dissolution of our bodily organism, the 
music of consciousness would pass away for ever. Perhaps 
no form of psychology taught in the Greek schools has 
approached nearer to modern thought than this. It was 
professed at Thebes by two Pythagoreans, Cebes and 
Simmias, in the time of Plato. He rightly regarded them as 
formidable opponents, for they were ready to grant whatever 
he claimed for the soul in the way of immateriality and 
superiority to the body, while denying the possibility of its 
separate existence. We may so far anticipate the course of 
our exposition as to mention that the direct argument by 
which he met them was a reference to the moving power of 
mind, and to the constraint exercised by reason over pas- 
sionate impulse ; characteristics which the analogy with a 
musical harmony failed to explain. But his chief reliance 
was on an order of considerations, the historical genesis of 
which we shall now proceed to trace. 

It was by that somewhat slow and circuitous process, the 
negation of a negation, that spiritualism was finally estab- 
lished. The shadows of doubt gathered still more thickly 
around futurity before another attempt could be made to 
remove them. For the scepticism of the Humanists and the 
ethical dialectic of Socrates, if they tended to weaken the 
dogmatic materialism of physical philosophy, were at first 


not more favourable to the new faith which that philosophy- 
had suddenly eclipsed. For the one rejected every kind of 
supernaturalism ; and the other did not attempt to go behind 
what had been directly revealed by the gods, or was dis- 
coverable from an examination of their handiwork. Never- 
theless, the new enquiries, with their exclusively subjective 
direction, paved the way for a return to the religious develop- 
ment previously in progress. By leading men to think of 
mind as, above all, a principle of knowledge and deliberate 
action, they altogether freed it from those material associa- 
tions which brought it under the laws of external Nature, 
where every finite existence was destined, sooner or later, to 
be reabsorbed and to disappear. The position was com- 
pletely reversed when Nature was, as it were, brought up 
before the bar of Mind to have her constitution determined 
or her very existence denied by that supreme tribunal. If 
the subjective idealism of Protagoras and Gorgias made for 
spiritualism, so also did the teleological religion of Socrates. 
It was impossible to assert the priority and superiority of 
mind to matter more strongly than by teaching that a 
designing intelligence had created the whole visible universe 
for the exclusive enjoyment of man. The infinite without 
was in its turn absorbed by the infinite within. Finally, the 
logical method of Socrates contained in itself the germs . of a 
still subtler spiritualism which Plato now proceeded to work 

The dialectic theory, considered in its relation to physics, 
tended to substitute the study of uniformity for the study of 
mechanical causation. But the general conceptions estab- 
lished by science were a kind of soul in Nature ; they were 
immaterial, they could not be perceived by sense, and yet, 
remaining as they did unchanged in a world of change, they 
were far truer, far more real, than the phenomena to which 
they gave unity and definition. Now these self-existent 
ideas, being subjective in their origin, readily reacted on 


mind, and communicated to it those attributes of fixedness 
and eternal duration which had in truth been borrowed by 
them from Nature, not by Nature from them. Plato argued 
that the soul was in possession of ideas too pure to have 
been derived from the suggestions of sense, and therefore 
traceable to the reminiscences of an ante-natal experience. 
But we can see that the reminiscence was all on the side of 
the ideas ; it was they that betrayed their human origin by 
the birthmark of abstraction and finality — betokening the 
limitation of man's faculties and the interest of his desires — 
which still clung to them when from a temporary law of 
thought they were erected into an everlasting law of things. 
As Comte would say, Plato was taking out of his conceptions 
what he had first put into them himself. And, if this 
consideration applies to all his reasonings on the subject of 
immortality, it applies especially to what he regards as the 
most convincing demonstration of any. There is one idea, 
he tells us, with which the soul is inseparably and essentially 
associated — namely, the idea of life. Without this, soul can 
no more be conceived than snow without cold or fire without 
heat ; nor can death approach it without involving a logical 
contradiction. To assume that the soul is separable from 
the body, and that life is inseparable from the soul, was 
certainly an expeditious method of proof. To a modern, it 
would have the further disadvantage of proving too much. 
For, by parity of reasoning, every living thing must have an 
immortal soul, and every soul must have existed from all 
eternity. Plato frankly accepted both conclusions, and even 
incorporated them with his ethical system. He looked on 
the lower animals as so many stages in a progressive 
degradation to which human beings had descended through 
their own violence or sensuality, but from which it was 
possible for them to return after a certain period of penitence 
and probation. At other times he describes a hell, a 
purgatory, and a heaven, not unlike what we read of in 


Dante, without apparently being conscious of any incon- 
sistency between the two representations. It was, indeed, an 
inconsistency such as we find in the highest order of intellects, 
the inconsistency of one who mediated between two worlds, 
between naturalistic metempsychosis on the one side, and 
ethical individualism on the other. 

It was not merely the immortality, it was the eternity of 
the soul that Plato taught. For him the expectation of a life 
beyond the grave was identified with the memory of an ante- 
natal existence, and the two must stand or fall together. 
When Shelley's shipwrecked mother exclaims to her child : — 

'■ Alas ! what is life, what is death, what are we, 
That when the ship sinks we no longer may be ! 
What ! to see thee no more, and to feel thee no more. 
To be after life what we have been before ! ' 

Her despair is but the inverted image of Plato's hope, the 
return to a purer state of being where knowledge will no 
longer be obscured by passing through the perturbing medium 
of sight and touch. Again, modern apologists for the injustice 
and misery of the present system' argue that its inequalities 
will be redressed in a future state. Plato conversely regarded 
the sufferings of good men as a retribution for former sin, or 
as the result of a forgotten choice. The authority of Pindar 
and of ancient tradition generally may have influenced his 
belief, but it had a deeper ground in the logic of a spiritual- 
istic philosophy. The dualism of soul and body is only one 
form of his fundamental antithesis betvveen the changeless 
essence and the transitory manifestations of existence. A 
pantheism like Spinoza's was the natural outcome of such a 
system ; but his practical genius or his ardent imagination 
kept Plato from carrying it so far. Nor in the interests of 
progress was the result to be regretted ; for theology had to 
pass through one more phase before the term of its beneficent 
activity could be reached. Ethical conceptions gained a new 

' • Un monde qui est I'injustice meme.' — Ernest Renan, LEglisc Chreticune, 
1>- '39- 


significance in the blended light of mythology and meta- 
physics ; those who made it their trade to pervert justice at its 
fountain-head might still tremble before the terrors of a 
supernatural tribunal ; or if Plato could not regenerate the 
life of his own people he could foretell what was to be the 
common faith of Europe in another thousand years ; and 
memory, if not hope, is the richer for those magnificent visions 
where he has projected the eternal conflict between good and 
evil into the silence and darkness by which our lives are shut 
in on every side. 


Plato had begun by condemning poetry only in so far as 
it was inconsistent with true religion and morality. At last, 
with his usual propensity to generalise, he condemned it and, 
by implication, every imitative art qua art, as a delusion and 
a sham, twice removed from the truth of things, because a copy 
of the phenomena which are themselves unreal representations 
of an archetypal idea. His iconoclasm may remind us of 
other ethical theologians both before and after, whether 
Hebrew, Moslem, or Puritan. If he does not share their 
fanatical hatred for plastic and pictorial representations, it is 
only because works of that class, besides being of a chaster 
character, exercised far less power over the Greek imagination 
than epic and dramatic poetry. Moreover, the tales of the 
poets were, according to Plato, the worst lies of any, since 
they were believed to be true ; whereas statues and pictures 
differed too obviously from their originals for any such illusion 
to be produced in their case. Like the Puritans, again, Plato 
sanctioned the use of religious hymns, with the accompani- 
ment of music in its simplest and most elevated forms. Like 
them, also, he would have approved of literary fiction when it 
was employed for edifying purposes. Works like the Faery 
Queen, Paradise Lost, and the Pilgrim's Progress, would have 
been his favourites in English literature ; and he might have 


extended the same indulgence to fictions of the Edgeworthian 
type, where the virtuous characters always come off best in 
the end. 

The reformed system of education was to be not only 
moral and religious but also severely scientific. The place 
given to mathematics as the foundation of a right intellectual 
training is most remarkable, and shows how truly Plato 
apprehended the conditions under which knowledge is ac- 
quired and enlarged. Here, as in other respects, he is, more 
even than Aristotle, the precursor of Auguste Comte, He 
arranges the mathematical sciences, so far as they then existed, 
jn their logical order ; and his remarks on the most general 
ideas suggested by astronomy read like a divination of rational 
mechanics. That a recommendation of such studies should 
be put into the mouth of Socrates is a striking incongruity. 
The older Plato grew the farther he seems to have advanced 
from the humanist to the naturalistic point of view ; and, had 
he been willing to confess it, Hippias and Prodicus were the 
teachers with whom he finally found himself most in sympathy. 

Macaulay has spoken as if the Platonic philosophy was 
totally unrelated to the material wants of men. This, how- 
ever, is a mistake. It is true that, in the Republic, science is 
not regarded as an instrument for heaping up fresh luxuries, 
or for curing the diseases which luxury breeds ; but only 
because its purpose is held to be the discovery of those 
conditions under which a healthy, happy, and virtuous race 
can best be reared. The art of the true statesman is to weave 
the web of life with perfect skill, to bring together those 
couples from whose union the noblest progeny shall issue ; and 
it is only by mastering the laws of the physical universe that 
this art can be acquired. Plato knew no natural laws but 
those of mathematics and astronomy ; consequently, he set 
far too much store on the times and seasons at which bride 
and bridegroom were to meet, and on the numerical ratios by 
which they were supposed to be determined. He even tells 


us about a mysterious formula for discovering the nuptial 
number, by which the ingenuity of commentators has been 
considerably exercised. The true laws by which marriage 
should be regulated among a civilised people have remained 
wrapped in still more impenetrable darkness. Whatever may 
be the best solution, it can hardly fail to differ in many 
respects from our present customs. It cannot be right that 
the most important act in the life of a human being should 
be determined by social ambition, by avarice, by vanity, b)' 
pique, or by accident — in a word, by the most contemptible 
impulses of which human nature is susceptible ; nor is it to be 
expected that sexual selection will always necessitate the 
employment of insincerity, adulation, and bribery by one of 
the parties concerned, while fostering in the other credulity, 
egoism, jealousy, capriciousness, and petty tyranny — the very 
qualities which a wise training would have for its object to 
root out.' 

It seems difficult to reconcile views about marriage involv- 
ing a recognition of the fact that mental and moral qualities 
are hereditarily transmitted, with the belief in metempsy- 
chosis elsewhere professed by Plato. But perhaps his ad- 
hesion to the latter doctrine is not to be taken very seriously. 
In imitation of the objective world, whose essential truth is 
half hidden and half disclosed by its phenomenal manifesta- 
tions, he loves to present his speculative teaching under a 
mythical disguise ; and so he may have chosen the old 
doctrine of transmigration as an apt expression for the unity 
and continuity of life. And, at worst, he would not be guilty 
of any greater inconsistency than is chargeable to those 
modern philosophers who, while they admit that mental 
qualities are inherited, hold each individual soul to be a 
separate and independent creation. 

The rules for breeding and education set forth in the 
Republic are not intended for the whole community, but only 

' Cf. /-j.f/.r, 210, F.. Jowett, I., 54. 
R 2 


for tlie ruling minority. It was by the corruption of the 
higher classes that Plato was most distressed, and the salva- 
tion of the State depended, according to him, on their refor- 
mation. This leads us on to his scheme for the reconstitution 
of society. It is intimately connected with his method of 
logical definition and classification. He shows with great 
force that the collective action of human beings is conditioned 
by the division of labour ; and argues from this that every 
individual ought, in the interest of the whole, to be restricted 
to a single occupation. Therefore, the industrial classes, who 
form the bulk of the population, are to be excluded both 
from military service and from political power. The Pelo- 
ponnesian War had led to a general substitution of profes- 
sional soldiers for the old levies of untrained citizens in Greek 
warfare. Plato was deeply impressed by the dangers, as well 
as by the advantages, of this revolution. That each profes- 
sion should be exercised only by persons trained for it, suited 
his notions alike as a logician, a teacher, and a practical 
reformer. But he saw that mercenary fighters might use 
their power to oppress and plunder the defenceless citizens, 
or to establish a military despotism. And, holding that 
government should, like strategy, be exercised only by func- 
tionaries naturally fitted and expressly trained for the work, 
he saw equally that a privileged class would be tempted to 
abuse their position in order to fill their pockets and to gratify 
their passions. He proposed to provide against these dangers, 
first by the new system of education already described, and 
secondly by pushing the division of labour to its logical 
conclusion. That they might the better attend to their 
specific duties, the defenders and the rulers of the State were 
not to practise the art of money-making ; in other words, 
they were not to possess any, property of their own, but were 
to be supported by the labour of the industrial classes. 
Furthermore, that they need not quarrel among themselves, 
he proposed that every private interest should be eliminated 


from their lives, and that they should, as a class, be united by 
the closest bonds of family affection. This purpose was to 
be efifected by the abolition of marriage and of domesticity. 
The couples chosen for breeding were to be separated when 
the object of their union had been attained ; children were to 
be taken from their mothers immediately after birth and 
brought up at the expense and under the supervision of the 
State. Sickly and deformed infants were to be destroyed. 
Those who fell short of the aristocratic standard were to be 
degraded, and their places filled up by the exceptionally 
gifted offspring of low-class parents. Members of the mili- 
tary and governing caste were to address each other accord- 
ing to the kinship which might possibly exist between them. 
In the absence of home-employments, women were to be, so 
far as possible, assimilated to men ; to pass through the same 
bodily and mental training ; to be enrolled in the army ; 
and, if they showed the necessary capacity, to discharge the 
highest political functions. In this practical dialectic the 
identifying no less than the differentiating power of logic is 
displayed, and displayed also in defiance of common ideas, 
as in the modern classifications of zoology and botany. Plato 
introduces distinctions where they did not before exist, and 
annuls those which were already recognised. The sexes were 
to be assimilated, political life was to be identified with family 
life, and the whole community was to present an exact 
parallel with the individual soul. The ruling committee 
corresponded to reason, the army to passionate spirit, and the 
industrial classes to the animal desires ; and each, in its 
perfect constitution, represented one of the cardinal virtues as 
reinterpreted by Plato. Wisdom belonged to the ruling part, 
courage to the intermediate executive power, and temper- 
ance or obedience to the organs of material existence; while 
justice meant the general harmony resulting from the fulfil- 
ment of their appropriate functions by all. We may add 
that the whole State reproduced the Greek family in a much 


deeper sense than Plato himself was aware of. For his 
aristocracy represents the man, whose virtue, in the words of 
Gorgias, was to 'administer the State;' and his industrial 
class takes the place of the woman, whose duty was ' to 
order her house, and keep what is indoors, and obey her 
husband.' ' 

Such was the celebrated scheme by which Plato proposed 
to regenerate mankind. We have already taken occasion to 
show how it was connected with his ethical and dialectical 
philosophy. We have now to consider in what relation it 
stands to the political experience of his own and other times, 
as well as to the revolutionary proposals of other speculative 


According to Hegel,^ the Platonic polity, so far from 
being an impracticable dream, had already found its realisa- 
tion in Greek life, and did but give a purer expression to the 
constitutive principle of every ancient commonwealth. There 
are, he tells us, three stages in the moral development of 
mankind. The first is purely objective. It represents a 
regime where rules of conduct are entirely imposed from 
without ; they are, as it were, embodied in the framework of 
society ; they rest, not on reason and conscience, but on 
authority and tradition ; they will not suffer themselves to be 
questioned, for, being unproved, a doubt would be fatal to 
their very existence. Here the individual is completely 
sacrificed to the State ; but in the second or subjective stage 
he breaks loose, asserting the right of his private judgment 
and will as against the established order of things. This 
revolution was, still according to Hegel, begun by the 
Sophists and Socrates. It proved altogether incompatible 
with the spirit of Greek civilisation, which it ended by 
shattering to pieces. The subjective principle found an 

' Mem, 71, E. Jowelt, I., 270. * Gesih. a. Ph., II , 272. 


appropriate expression in Christianity, which attributes an 
infinite importance to the individual soul ; and it appears also 
in the political philosophy of Rousseau. We may observe 
that it corresponds very nearly to what Auguste Comte 
meant by the metaphysical period. The modern State re- 
conciles both principles, allowing the individual his full de- 
velopment, and at the same time incorporating him with a 
larger whole, where, for the first time, he finds his own reason 
fully realised. Now, Hegel looks on the Platonic republic 
as a reaction against the subjective individualism, the right of 
private judgment, the self-seeking impulse, or whatever else 
it is to be called, which was fast eating into the heart of Greek 
civilisation. To counteract this fatal tendency, Plato goes 
back to the constitutive principle of Greek society — that is to 
say, the omnipotence, or, in Benthamite parlance, omnicom- 
petence, of the State ; exhibiting it, in ideal perfection, as the 
suppression of individual liberty under every form, more 
especially the fundamental forms of property, marriage, and 
domestic life. 

It seems to us that Hegel, in his anxiety to crush every 
historical process into the narrow symmetry of a favourite 
metaphysical formula, has confounded several entirely distinct 
conceptions under the common name of subjectivity. First, 
there is the right of private judgment, the claim of each 
individual to have a voice in the affairs of the State, and to have 
the free management of his own personal concerns. But this, 
so far from being modern, is one of the oldest customs of tlie 
Aryan race ; and perhaps, could we look back to the oldest 
history of other races now despotically governed, we should 
find it prevailing among them also. It was no new nor un- 
heard-of privilege that Rousseau vindicated for the peoples 
of his own time, but their ancient birthright, taken from them 
by the growth of a centralised military system, just as it had 
been formerly taken from the city communities of the Graeco- 
Roman world. In this respect, Plato goes against the whole 


spirit of his country, and no period of its development, not 
even the age of Homer, would have satisfied him. 

We have next the disposition of individuals, no longer to 
interfere in making the law, but to override it, or to bend it 
into an instrument for their own purposes. Doubtless there 
existed such a tendency in Plato's time, and his polity was 
very largely designed to hold it in check. But such un- 
principled ambition was nothing new in Greece, however the 
mode of its manifestations might vaiy. What had formerly 
been seized by armed violence was now sought after with the 
more subtle weapons of rhetorical skill ; just as at the present 
moment, among these same Greeks, it is the prize of parlia- 
mentary intrigue. The Cretan and Spartan institutions may 
very possibly have been designed with a view to checking 
this spirit of selfish lawlessness, by reducing private interests 
to a minimum ; and Plato most certainly had them in his 
mind when he pushed the same method still further ; but those 
institutions were not types of Hellenism as a whole, they only 
represented one, and that a very abnormal, side of it. Plato 
borrowed some elements from this quarter, but, as Ave shall 
presently show, he incorporated them with others of a widely 
different character. Sparta was, indeed, on any high theory 
of government, not a State at all, but a robber-clan established 
among a plundered population whom they never tried or 
cared to conciliate. How little weight her rulers attributed 
to the interests of the State as such, was well exhibited during 
the Peloponnesian War, when political advantages of the 
utmost importance were surrendered in deference to the 
noble families whose kinsmen had been captured at Sphac- 
teria, and whose sole object was to rescue them from the fate 
with which they were threatened by the Athenians as a means 
of extorting concessions ; — conduct with which the refusal of 
Rome to ransom the soldiers who had surrendered at Cannae 
may be instructively contrasted. 

We have, thirdly, to consider a form of individualism 


directly opposed in character to those already specified. It 
is the complete withdrawal from public affairs for the sake of 
attending exclusively to one's private duties or pleasures. 
Such individualism is the characteristic weakness of conserva- 
tives, who are, by their very nature, the party of timidity and 
quiescence. To them was addressed the exhortation of Cato, 
capessenda est respuhlica. The two other forms of which we 
have spoken are, on the contrary, diseases of liberalism. We 
see them exemplified when the leaders of a party are harassed 
by the perpetual criticism of their professed supporters ; or, 
again, when an election is lost because the votes of the 
Liberal electors are divided among several candidates. But 
when a party — generally the Conservative party — loses an 
election because its voters will not go to the poll, that is owing 
to the lazy individualism which shuns political contests alto- 
gether. It was of this disease that the public life of Athens 
really perished ; and, so far, Hegel is on the right track ; but 
although its action was more obviously and immediately fatal 
in antiquity, we are by no means safe from a repetition of the 
same experience in modern society. Nor can it be said that 
Plato reacted against an evil which, in his eyes, was an evil 
only when it deprived a very few properly-qualified persons of 
political supremacy. With regard to all others he proposed 
to sanction and systematise what was already becoming a 
common custom — namely, entire withdrawal from the admin- 
istration of affairs in peace and war. Hegel seems to forget 
that it is only a single class, and that the smallest, in Plato's 
republic which is not allowed to have any private interests ; 
while the industrial classes, necessarily forming a large majo- 
rity of the whole population, are not only suffered to retain 
tlieir property and their families, but are altogether thrown 
back for mental occupation on the interests arising out of 
these. The resulting state of things would have found its 
best parallel, not in old Greek city life, but in modern Europe, 
as it was between the Reformation and the French Revolution. 


The three forms of individualism already enumerated do 
not exhaust the general conception of subjectivity. Accord- 
ing to Hegel, if we understand him aright, the most important 
aspect of the principle in question would be the philosophical 
side, the return of thought on itself, already latent in physical 
speculation, proclaimed by the Sophists as an all-dissolving 
scepticism, and worked up into a theory of life by Socrates. 
That there was such a movement is, of course, certain ; but 
that it contributed perceptibly to the decay of old Greek 
morality, or that it was essentially opposed to the old Greek 
spirit, cannot, we think, be truly asserted. What has been 
already observed of political liberty and of political un- 
scrupulousness maybe repeated of intellectual inquisitiveness, 
rationalism, scepticism, or by whatever name the tendency in 
question is to be called — it always was, and still is, essentially 
characteristic of the Greek race. It may very possibly have 
been a source of political disintegration at all times, but that 
it became so to a greater extent after assuming the form of 
systematic speculation has never been proved. If the study 
of science, or the passion for intellectual gymnastics, drew 
men away from the duties of public life, it was simply as one 
more private interest among many, just like feasting, or 
lovemaking, or travelling, or poetry, or any other of the 
occupations in which a wealthy Greek delighted ; not from 
any intrinsic incompatibility with the duties of a statesman 
or a soldier. So far, indeed, was this from being true, that 
liberal studies, even of the abstrusest order, were pursued 
with every advantage to their patriotic energy by such citizens 
as Zeno, Melissus, Empedocles, and, above all, by Pericles and 
Epameinondas. If Socrates stood aloof from public business 
it was that he might have more leisure to train others for its 
proper performance ; and he himself, when called upon to 
serve the State, proved fully equal to the emergency. As for 
the Sophists, it is well known that their profession was to 
give young men the sort of education which would enable 


them to fill the highest political offices with honour and 
advantage. It is true that such a special preparation would 
end by throwing increased difficulties in the way of a career 
which it was originally intended to facilitate, by raising the 
standard of technical proficiency in statesmanship ; and that 
many possible aspirants would, in consequence, be driven 
back on less arduous pursuits. But Plato was so far from 
opposing this specialisation that he wished to carry it much 
farther, and to make government the exclusive business of a 
small class who were to be physiologically selected and to 
receive an education far more elaborate than any that the 
Sophists could give. If, however, we consider Plato not as 
the constructor of a new constitution but in relation to the 
politics of his own time, we must admit that his whole in- 
fluence was used to set public affairs in a hateful and con- 
temptible light. So far, therefore, as philosophy was repre- 
sented by him, it must count for a disintegrating force. But 
in just the same degree we are precluded from assimilating 
his idea of a State to the old Hellenic model. We must 
rather say, what he himself would have said, that it never was 
realised anywhere ; although, as we shall presently see, a 
certain approach to it was made in the Middle Ages. 

Once more, looking at the whole current of Greek philo- 
sophy, and especially the philosophy of mind, are we entitled 
to say that it encouraged, if it did not create, those other forms 
of individualism already defined as mutinous criticism on the 
part of the people, and selfish ambition on the part of its chiefs } 
Some historians have maintained that there was such a con- 
nexion, operating, if not directly, at least through a chain of 
intermediate causes. Free thought destroyed religion, with 
religion fell morality, and with morality whatever restraints 
had hitherto kept anarchic tendencies of every description 
within bounds. These are interesting reflections ; but they do 
not concern us here, for the issue raised by Hegel is entirely 
different. It matters nothingto him that Socrates wasastaunch 


defender of supernaturalism and of the received morality. 
The essential antithesis is between the Socratic introspection 
and the Socratic dialectics on the one side, and the unquestioned 
authority of ancient institutions on the other. If this be what 
Hegel means, we must once more record our dissent. We 
cannot admit that the philosophy of subjectivity, so interpreted, 
was a decomposing ferment ; nor that the spirit of Plato's 
republic was, in any case, a protest against it. The Delphic 
precept, ' Know thyself,' meant in the mouth of Socrates : 
Let every man find out what work he is best fitted for, and 
stick to that, without meddling in matters for which he is not 
qualified. The Socratic dialectic meant : Let the whole field 
of knowledge be similarly studied ; let our ideas on all 
subjects be so systematised that we shall be able to discover 
at a moment's notice the bearing of any one of them on any 
of the others, or on any new question brought up for decision. 
Surely nothing could well be less individualistic, in a bad 
sense, less anti-social, less anarchic than this. Nor does 
Plato oppose, he generalises his master's principles ; he works 
out the psychology and dialectic of the whole state ; and if 
the members of his governing class are not permitted to have 
any separate interests in their individual capacity, each 
individual soul is exalted to the highest dignity by having the 
community reorganised on the model of its own internal 
economy. There are no violent peripeteias in this great 
drama of thought, but everywhere harmony, continuity, and 
gradual development. 

We have entered at some length into Hegel's theory of the 
Republic, because it seems to embody a misleading conception 
not only of Greek politics but also of the most important 
attempt at a social reformation ever made by one man in the 
history of philosophy. Thought would be much less worth 
studying if it only reproduced the abstract form of a very 
limited experience, instead of analysing and recombining the 
elements of which that experience is composed. And our 


faith in the power of conscious efforts towards improvement 
will very much depend on which side of the alternative we 

Zeller, while taking a much wider view than Hegel, still 
assumes that Plato's reforms, so far as they were suggested 
by experience, were simply an adaptation of Dorian practices.' 
He certainly succeeds in showing that private property, mar- 
riage, education, individual liberty, and personal morality 
were subjected, at least in Sparta, to many restrictions re- 
sembling those imposed in the Platonic state. And Plato 
himself, by treating the Spartan system as the first form of 
degeneration from his own ideal, seems to indicate that this 
of all existing polities made the nearest approach to it. The 
declarations of the Timacus'^ are, however, much more dis- 
tinct ; and according to them it was in the caste-divisions of 
Egypt that he found the nearest parallel to his own scheme 
of social reorganisation. There, too, the priests, or wise men 
came first, and after them the warriors, while the different 
branches of industry were separated from one another by 
rigid demarcations. He may also have been struck by that 
free admission of women to employments elsewhere filled 
exclusively by men, which so surprised Herodotus, from 
his inability to discern its real cause — the more advanced 
differentiation of Egyptian as compared with Greek society.^ 


But a profounder analysis of experience is necessary 
before we can come to the real roots of Plato's scheme. It 
must be remembered that our philosopher was a revolutionist 
of the most thorough-going description, that he objected not to 
this or that constitution of his time, but to all existing consti- 

' op. cit., p. 777. 2 Timaais, 24, A. Jowett, III., 608. 

' Cf. the excellent remarks of Teichmiiller, I.iL Feltden, p. 107. 


tutions whatever. Now, every great revolutionary movement, 
if in some respects an advance and an evolution, is in other 
respects a retrogression and a dissolution. When the most 
complex forms of political association are broken up, the 
older or subordinate forms suddenly acquire new life and 
meaning. What is true of practice is true also of speculation. 
Having broken away from the most advanced civilisation, 
Plato was thrown back on the spontaneous organisation of 
industry, on the army, the school, the family, the savage 
tribe, and even the herd of cattle, for types of social union. 
It was by taking some hints from each of these minor aggre- 
gates that he succeeded in building up his ideal polity, which, 
notwithstanding its supposed simplicity and consistency, is one 
of the most heterogeneous ever framed. The principles on 
which it rests are not really carried out to their logical conse- 
quences ; they interfere with and supplement one another. 
The restriction of political power to a single class is avowedly 
based on the necessity for a division of labour. One man, we 
are told, can only do one thing well. But Plato should have 
seen that the producer is not for that reason to be made a 
monopolist ; and that, to borrow his own favourite example, 
shoes are properly manufactured because the shoemaker is 
kept in order by the competition of his rivals and by the 
freedom of the consumer to purchase wherever he please?. 
Athenian democracy, so far from contradicting the lessons of 
political economy, was, in truth, their logical application to 
government. The people did not really govern themselves, 
nor do they in any modern democracy, but they listened to 
different proposals, just as they might choose among different 
articles in a shop or different tenders for building a house, 
accepted the most suitable, and then left it to be carried out 
by their trusted agents. 

Again, Plato is false to his own rule when he selects his 
philosophic governors out of the military caste. If the same 
individual can be a warrior in his youth and an administrator 


in his riper years, one man can do two things well, though 
not at the same time. If the same person can be born with 
the quaHfications both of a soldier and of a politician, and 
can be fitted by education for each calling in succession, 
surely a much greater number can combine the functions of a 
manual labourer with those of an elector. What prevented 
Plato from perceiving this obvious parallel was the tradition 
of the paterfamilias who had always been a warrior in his 
youth ; and a commendable anxiety to keep the army closely 
connected with the civil power. The analogies of domestic 
life have also a great deal to do with his proposed community 
of women and children. Instead of undervaluing the family 
affections, he immensely overvalued them ; as is shown by his 
supposition that the bonds of consanguinity would prevent 
dissensions from arising among his warriors. He should 
have known that many a home is the scene of constant 
wrangling, and that quarrels between kinsfolk are the 
bitterest of any. Then, looking on the State as a great 
school, Plato imagined that the obedience, docility, and 
credulity of young scholars could be kept up through a life- 
time ; that full-grown citizens would swallow the absurdest in- 
ventions ; and that middle-aged officers could be sent into 
retirement for several years to study dialectic. To suppose 
that statesmen must necessarily be formed by the discipline 
in question is another scholastic trait. The professional 
teacher attributes far more practical importance to his 
abstruser lessons than they really possess. He is not content 
to wait for the indirect influence which they may exert at 
some remote period and in combination with forces of 
perhaps a widely different character. He looks for imme- 
diate and telling results. He imagines that the highest truth 
must have a mysterious power of transforming all things into 
its own likeness, or at least of making its learners more 
capable than other men of doing the world's work. Here 
also Plato, instead of being too logical, was not logical 


enough. By following out the laws of economy, as applied 
to mental labour, he might have arrived at the separation of 
the spiritual and temporal powers, and thus anticipated the 
best established social doctrine of our time. 

With regard to the propagation of the race, Plato's 
methods are avowedly borrowed from those practised by 
bird-fanciers, horse-trainers, and cattle-breeders. It had long 
been a Greek custom to compare the people to a flock of 
sheep and their ruler to a shepherd, phrases which still 
survive in ecclesiastical parlance. Socrates habitually em- 
ployed the same simile in his political discussions ; and the 
rhetoricians used it as a justification of the governors who 
enriched themselves at the expense of those committed to 
their charge. Plato twisted the argument out of their hands 
and showed that the shepherd, as such, studies nothing but 
the good of his sheep. He failed to perceive that the parallel 
could not be carried out in every detail, and that, quite apart 
from more elevated considerations, the system which secures 
a healthy progeny in the one case cannot be transferred to 
creatures possessing a vastly more complex and delicate 
organisation. The destruction of sickly and deformed 
children could only be justified on the hypothesis that 
none but physical qualities were of any value to the com- 
munity. Our philosopher forgets his own distinction 
between soul and body just when he most needed to re- 
member it. 

The position assigned to women by Plato may perhaps 
have seemed to his contemporaries the most paradoxical of 
all his projects, and it has been observed that here he is in 
advance even of our own age. But a true conclusion may be 
deduced from false premises ; and Plato's conclusion is not 
even identical with that reached on other grounds by the 
modern advocates of women's rights, or rather of their equitable 
claims. The author of the Republic detested democracy ; and 
the enfranchisement of women is now demanded as a part of 


the general democratic programme. It is an axiom, at least 
with liberals, that no class will have its interests properly 
attended to which is left without a voice in the election of 
parliamentary representatives ; and the interests of the sexes 
are not more obviously identical than those of producers and 
consumers, or of capitalists and labourers. Another demo- 
cratic principle is that individuals are, as a rule, the best 
judges of what occupation they are fit for ; and as a con- 
sequence of this it is further demanded that women should be 
admitted to every employment on equal terms with men ; 
leaving competition to decide in each instance whether they 
are suited for it or not. Their continued exclusion from the 
military profession w^ould be an exception more apparent than 
real ; because, like the majority of the male sex, they are phy- 
sically disqualified for it. Now, the profession of arms is the 
very one for which Plato proposes to destine the daughters of 
his aristocratic caste, without the least intention of consulting 
their wishes on the subject. He is perfectly aware that his 
own principle of differentiation will be quoted against him, 
but he turns the difficulty in a very dexterous manner. He 
contends that the difference of the sexes, so far as strength 
and intelligence are concerned, is one not of kind but of 
degree ; for women are not distinguished from men by the 
possession of any special aptitude, none of them being able to 
do anything that some men cannot do better. Granting the 
truth of this rather unflattering assumption, the inference 
drawn from it will still remain economically unsound. The 
division of labour requires that each task should be performed, 
not by those who are absolutely, but by those who are rela- 
tively, best fitted for it. In many cases we must be content 
with work falling short of the highest attainable standard, 
that the time and abilities of the best workmen may be ex- 
clusively devoted to functions for which they alone are com- 
petent. Even if women could be trained to fight, it does not 
follow that their energies might not be more advantageously 



expended in another direction. Here, again, Plato improperly 
reasons from low to high forms of association. He appeals 
to the doubtful example of nomadic tribes, whose women took 
part in the defence of the camps, and to the fighting power 
possessed by the females of predatory animals. In truth, the 
elimination of home life left his women without any employ- 
ment peculiar to themselves ; and so, not to leave them com- 
pletely idle, they were drafted into the army, more with the 
hope of imposing on the enemy by an increase of its apparent 
strength than for the sake of any real service which they were 
expected to perform.' When Plato proposes that women of 
proved ability should be admitted to the highest political 
offices, he is far more in sympathy with modern reformers ; 
and his freedom from prejudice is all the more remarkable 
when we consider that no Greek lady (except, perhaps, 
Artemisia) is known to have ever displayed a talent for 
government, although feminine interference in politics was 
common enough at Sparta ; and that personally his feeling 
towards women was unsympathetic if not contemptuous.^ 
Still we must not exaggerate the importance of his concession. 
The Platonic polity was, after all, a family rather than a true 
State ; and that women should be allowed a share in the 
regulation of marriage and in the nurture of children, was only 
giving them back with one hand what had been taken away 
with the other. Already, among ourselves, women have a 
voice in educational matters ; and were marriage brought 
under State control, few would doubt the propriety of making 
them eligible to the new Boards which would be charged with 
its supervision. 

The foregoing analysis will enable us to appreciate the 
true significance of the resemblance pointed out by Zeller ^ 

' Repuh., v., 471, D. 

2 He mentions as one of the worst effects of a democracy that it made them 
a>.sume airs of equality with men. Repitb., 563, B. ; cf. 569, E. Timaeus, 90, E. 
It is to be feared that Plato regarded woman as the missing link. 

3 In his Vortrdge imd Ahhandlungcn, first series, p. 68. 


between the Platonic republic and the organisation of mediaeval 
society. The importance given to religious and moral train- 
ing ; the predominance of the priesthood ; the sharp distinc- 
tion drawn between the military caste and the industrial 
population ; the exclusion of the latter from political power ; 
the partial abolition of marriage and property ; and, it might 
be added, the high position enjoyed by women as regents, 
chatelaines, abbesses, and sometimes even as warriors or pro- 
fessors, — are all innovations more in the spirit of Plato than 
in the spirit of Pericles. Three converging influences united 
to bring about this extraordinary verification of a philosophical 
ideal. The profound spiritual revolution effected by Greek 
thought was taken up and continued by Catholicism, and un- 
consciously guided to the same practical conclusions the 
teaching which it had in great part originally inspired. Social 
differentiation went on at the same time, and led to the 
political consequences logically deduced from it by Plato. 
And the barbarian conquest of Rome brought in its train 
some of those more primitive habits on which his breach with 
civilisation had equally thrown him back. Thus the coinci- 
dence between Plato's Republic and mediaeval polity is due 
in one direction to causal agency, in another to speculative 
insight, and in a third to parallelism of effects, independent of 
each other but arising out of analogous conditions. 

If, now, we proceed to compare the Republic with more 
recent schemes having also for their object the identification 
of public with private interests, nothing, at first sight, seems 
to resemble it so closely as the theories of modern Com- 
munism ; especially those which advocate the abolition not 
only of private property but also of marriage. The similarity, 
however, is merely superficial, and covers a radical divergence. 
For, to begin with, the Platonic polity is not a system of 
Communism at all, in our sense of the word. It is not that 
the members of the ruling caste are to throw their property 
into a common fund ; neither as individuals nor as a class do 

S 2 


they possess any property whatever. Their wants are pro- 
vided for by the industrial classes, who apparently continue 
to live under the old system of particularism. What Plato 
had in view was not to increase the sum of individual enjoy- 
ments by enforcing an equal division of their material means, 
but to eliminate individualism altogether, and thus give 
human feeling the absolute generality which he so much 
admired in abstract ideas. On the other hand, unless we are 
mistaken, modern Communism has no objection to private 
property as such, could it remain divided either with absolute! 
equality or in strict proportion to the wants of its holders ;: 
but only as the inevitable cause of inequalities which advancing 
civilisation seems to aggravate rather than to redress. So 
also with marriage ; the modern assailants of that institution 
object to it as a restraint on the freedom of individual passion, 
which, according to them, would secure the maximum of 
pleasure by perpetually varying its objects. Plato would 
have looked on such reasonings as a parody and perversion of 
his own doctrine ; as in very truth, what some of them have 
professed to be, pleas for the rehabilitation of the flesh in its 
original supremacy over the spirit, and therefore the direct 
opposite of a system which sought to spiritualise by gene- 
ralising the interests of life. And so, when in the Laws he 
gives his Communistic principles their complete logical 
development by extending them to the whole population, he 
is careful to preserve their philosophical character as the 
absorption of individual in social existence.' 

The parentage of the two ideas will further elucidate their 
essentially heterogeneous character. For modern Communism 
is an outgrowth of the democratic tendencies which Plato 
detested ; and as such had its counterpart in ancient Athens, 
if we may trust the Ecdcsiazusae of Aristophanes, where also 
it is associated with unbridled licentiousness.^ Plato, on the 

' Legg., 739, B. Jowett, V., 311. 

''■ [Since the above was first published, Teichmiiller has brought forward new 


contrary, seems to have received the first suggestion of his 
Communism from the Pythagorean and aristocratic con- 
fraternities of Southern Italy, where the principle that friends 
have all things in common was an accepted maxim. 

If Plato stands at the very antipodes of Fourier and St. 
Simon, he is connected by a real relationship with those 
thinkers who, like Auguste Comte and Mr. Herbert Spencer, 
have based their social systems on a wide survey of physical 
science and human history. It is even probable that his 
ideas have exercised a decided though not a direct influence 
on the two writers whom we have named. For Comte 
avowedly took many of his proposed reforms from the 
organisation of mediaeval Catholicism, which was a transla- 
tion of philosophy into dogma and discipline, just as Posi- 
tivism is a re-translation of theology into the human thought 
from which it sprang. And Mr. Spencer's system, while it 
seems to be the direct antithesis of Plato's, might claim 
kindred with it through the principle of differentiation and 
integration, which, after passing from Greek thought into 
political economy and physiology, has been restored by our 
illustrious countryman to something more than its original 
generality. It has also to be observed that the application of 
very abstract truths to political science needs to be most 
jealously guarded, since their elasticity increases in direct 
proportion to their width. When one thinker argues from 
the law of increasing specialisation to a vast extension of 
governmental interference with personal liberty, and another 
thinker to its restriction within the narrowest possible limits, 
it seems time to consider whether experience and expediency 
are not, after all, the safest guides to trust. 

arguments to prove that it was Plato's scheme of Communism which Aristophanes 
intended to satirise (Z/^. Fehden, pp. 14, ff. ) ; but I do not thinit that even the 
first half of the Reptd'lic could possibly have been composed at such an esrly date 
as that assigned to it by this learned and ingenious critic] 



The social studies through which we have accompanied 
Plato seem to have reacted on his more abstract speculations, 
and to have largely modified the extreme opposition in which 
these had formerly stood to current notions, whether of a 
popular or a philosophical character. The change first 
becomes perceptible in his theory of Ideas. This is a subject 
on which, for the sake of greater clearness, we have hitherto 
refrained from entering ; and that we should have succeeded 
in avoiding it so long would seem to prove that the doctrine 
in question forms a much less important part of his philo- 
sophy than is commonly imagined. Perhaps, as some think, 
it was not an original invention of his own, but was borrowed 
from the Megarian school ; and the mythical connexion in 
which it frequently figures makes us doubtful how far he ever 
thoroughly accepted it. The theory is, that to every abstract 
name or conception of the mind there corresponds an objec- 
tive entity possessing a separate existence quite distinct from 
that of the scattered particulars by which it is exemplified to 
our senses or to our imagination. Just as the Heracleitean 
flux represented the confusion of which Socrates convicted 
his interlocutors, so also did these Ideas represent the defini- 
tions by which he sought to bring method and certainty into 
their opinions. It may be that, as Grote suggests, Plato 
adopted this hypothesis in order to escape from the difficulty 
of defining common notions in a satisfactory manner. It is 
certain that his earliest Dialogues seem to place true defini- 
tions beyond the reach of human knowledge. And at the 
beginning of Plato's constructive period we find the recogni- 
tion of abstract conceptions, whether mathematical or moral, 
traced to the remembrance of an ante-natal state, where the 
soul held direct converse with the transcendent realities to 
which those conceptions correspond. Justice, temperance, 
beauty, and goodness, are especially mentioned as examples 


of Ideas revealed in this manner. Subsequent investigations 
must, however, have led Plato to believe that the highest 
truths are to be found by analysing not the loose contents but 
the fixed forms of consciousness ; and that, if each virtue 
expressed a particular relation between the various parts of 
the soul, no external experience was needed to make her 
acquainted with its meaning ; still less could conceptions 
arising out of her connexion with the material world be 
explained by reference to a sphere of purely spiritual exist- 
ence. At the same time, innate ideas would no longer be 
required to prove her incorporeality, when the authority of 
reason over sense furnished so much more satisfactory a 
ground for believing the two to be of different origin. To 
all who have studied the evolution of modern thought, the 
substitution of Kantian forms for Cartesian ideas will at 
once elucidate and confirm our hypothesis of a similar 
reformation in Plato's metaphysics. 

Again, the new position occupied by Mind as an inter- 
mediary between the world of reality and the world of appear- 
ance, tended more and more to obliterate or confuse the 
demarcations by which they had hitherto been separated. 
The most general headings under which it was usual to 
contrast them were, the One and the Many, Being and 
Nothing, the Same and the Different, Rest and Motion. 
Parmenides employed the one set of terms to describe his 
Absolute, and the other to describe the objects of vulgar 
belief They also served respectively to designate the wise 
and the ignorant, the dialectician and the sophist, the know- 
ledge of gods and the opinions of men ; besides offering 
points of contact with the antithetical couples of Pytha- 
goreanism. But Plato gradually found that the nature of 
Mind could not be understood without taking both points of 
view into account. Unity and plurality, sameness and 
difference, equally entered into its composition ; although 
undoubtedly belonging to the sphere of reality, it was self- 


moved and the cause of all motion in other things. The 
dialectic or classificatory method, with its progressive series 
of differentiations and assimilations, also involved a continual 
use of categories which were held to be mutually exclusive. 
And on proceeding to an examination of the summa genera, 
the highest and most abstract ideas which it had been sought 
to distinguish by their absolute purity and simplicity from 
the shifting chaos of sensible phenomena, Plato discovered 
that even these were reduced to a maze of confusion and con- 
tradiction by a sincere application of the cross-examining 
elenchus. For example, to predicate being of the One was 
to mix it up with a heterogeneous idea and let in the very 
plurality which it denied. To distinguish them was to 
predicate difference of both, and thus open the door to fresh 

Finally, while the attempt to attain extreme accuracy of 
definition was leading to the destruction of all thought and 
all reality within the Socratic school, the dialectic method 
had been taken up and parodied in a very coarse style by a 
class of persons called Eristics. These men had, to some 
extent, usurped the place of the elder Sophists as paid in- 
structors of youth ; but their only accomplishment was to 
upset every possible assertion by a series of verbal juggles. 
One of their favourite paradoxes was to deny the reality 
of falsehood on the Parmenidean principle that * nothing 
cannot exist' Plato satirises their method in the EutJiy- 
danus, and makes a much more serious attempt to meet it in 
the Sophist \ two Dialogues which seem to have been com- 
posed not far from one another.' The Sophist effects a con- 
siderable simplification in the ideal theory by resolving 
negation into difference, and altogether omitting the notions 
of unity and plurality, — perhaps as a result of the investiga- 

' [Here, also, the recent argimients of Teichmiiller (Lit. Fchdcn, p. 51) 
deserve attention, but they have failed to convince me that an earlier date should 
be assigned to the Fulhy(1iiiu(s.'\ 


tions contained in the Pannenides, another dialogue be- 
longing to the same group, where the couple referred to are 
analysed with great minuteness, and are shown to be infected 
with numerous self-contradictions. The remaining five ideas 
of Existence, Sameness, Difference, Rest, and Motion, are 
allowed to stand ; but the fact of their inseparable connexion 
is brought out with great force and clearness. The enquiry- 
is one of considerable interest, including, as it does, the 
earliest known analysis of predication, and forming an indis- 
pensable link in the transition from Platonic to Aristotelian 
logic — that is to say, from the theory of definition and classifi- 
cation to the theory of syllogism. 

Once the Ideas had been brought into mutual relation 
and shown to be compounded with one another, the task of 
connecting them with the external world became considerably 
easier ; and the same intermediary which before had linked 
them to it as a participant in the nature of both, was now 
raised to a higher position and became the efficient cause of 
their intimate union. Such is the standpoint of the Philebus, 
where all existence is divided into four classes, the limit, the 
unlimited, the union of both, and the cause of their union. 
Mind belongs to the last and matter to the second class. 
There can hardly be a doubt that the first class is either 
identical with the Ideas or fills the place once occupied 
by them. The third class is the world of experience, the 
Cosmos of early Greek thought, which Plato had now 
come to look on a? a worthy object of study. In the 
Thnaciis, also a very late Dialogue, he goes further, and gives 
us a complete cosmogony, the general conception of which 
is clear enough, although the details are avowedly con- 
jectural and figurative ; nor do they seem to have exercised 
any influence or subsequent speculation until the time of 
Descartes. We are told that the world was created by God, 
who is absolutely good, and, being without jealousy, wished 
that all things should be like himself lie makes it to consist 


of a soul and a body, the former constructed in imitation of 
the eternal archetypal ideas which now seem to be reduced to 
three — Existence, Sameness, and Difference.' The soul of 
the world is formed by mixing these three elements together, 
and the body is an image of the soul. Sameness is repre- 
sented by the starry sphere rotating on its own axis ; Dif- 
ference by the inclination of the ecliptic to the equator ; 
Existence, perhaps, by the everlasting duration of the 
heavens. The same analogy extends to the human figure, of 
which the head is the most essential part, all the rest of the 
body being merely designed for its support. Plato seems to 
regard the material world as a sort of machinery designed to 
meet the necessities of sight and touch, by which the human 
soul arrives at a knowledge of the eternal order without ; — a 
direct reversal of his earlier theories, according to which 
matter and sense were mere encumbrances impeding the soul 
in her efforts after truth. 

What remains of the visible world after deducting its ideal 
elements is pure space. This, which to some seems the 
clearest of all conceptions, was to Plato one of the obscurest. 
He can only describe it as the formless substance out of which 
the four elements, fire, air, water, and earth, are differentiated. 
It closes the scale of existence and even lies half outside it, 
just as the Idea of Good in the Republic transcends the 
same scale at the other end. We may conjecture that the 
two principles are opposed as absolute self-identity and 
absolute self-separation ; the whole intermediate series of forms 
serving to bridge over the interval between them. It will 
then be easy to understand how, as Aristotle tells us, Plato 
finally came to adopt the Pythagorean nomenclature and 
designated his two generating principles as the monad and the 
indefinite dyad. Number was formed by their combination, 
and all other things were made out of number. Aristotle 

' We may even say thai they arc reduced lo two ; for Existence is a product of 
Sameness and Difference. 


complains that the Platonists had turned philosophy into 
mathematics ; and perhaps in the interests of science it was 
fortunate that the transformation occurred. To suppose that 
matter could be built up out of geometrical triangles, as Plato 
teaches in the Tiniaeus, was, no doubt, a highly reprehensible 
confusion ; but that the systematic study of science should be 
based on mathematics was an equally new and important 
aper^u. The impulse given to knowledge followed unfore- 
seen directions ; and at abater period Plato's true spirit was 
better represented by Archimedes and Hipparchus than by 
Arcesilaus and Carneades. 

It is remarkable that the spontaneous development of 
Greek thought should have led to a form of Theism not 
unlike that which some persons still imagine was supernatu- 
ral ly revealed to the Hebrew race ; for the absence of any con- 
nexion between the two is now almost universally admitted. 
Modern science has taken up the attitude of Laplace towards 
the hypothesis in question ; and those critics who, like Lange, 
are most imbued with the scientific spirit, feel inclined to 
regaj"d its adoption by Plato as a retrograde movement. We 
may to a certain extent agree with them, without admitting 
that philosophy, as a whole, was injured by departing from 
the principles of Democritus. An intellectual like an animal 
organism may sometimes have to choose between retrograde 
metamorphosis and total extinction. The course of events 
drove speculation to Athens, where it could only exist on the 
condition of assuming a theological form. Moreover, action 
and reaction were equal and contrary. Mythology gained as 
much as philosophy lost. It was purified from immoral in- 
gredients, and raised to the highest level which supernaturalism 
is capable of attaining. If the Republic was the forerunner 
of the Catholic Church, the Tiuiacus was the forerunner of 
the Catholic faith. 



The old age of Plato seems to have been marked by rest- 
less activity in more directions than one. He began various 
works which were never finished, and projected others which 
were never begun. He became possessed by a devouring 
zeal for social reform. It seemed to him that nothing was 
wanting but an enlightened despot to make his ideal State a 
reality. According to one story, he fancied that such an 
instrument might be found in the younger Dionysius. If so, 
his expectations were speedily disappointed. As Hegel 
acutely observes, only a man of half measures will allow him- 
self to be guided by another ; and such a man would lack the 
energy needed to carry out Plato's scheme.^ However this 
may be, the philosopher does not seem to have given up his 
idea that absolute monarchy was, after all, the government 
from which most good might be expected. A process of 
substitution which runs through his whole intellectual evolu- 
tion was here exemplified for the last time. Just as in his 
ethical system knowledge, after having been regarded solely 
as the means for procuring an ulterior end, pleasure, subse- 
quently became an end in itself; just as the interest in know- 
ledge was superseded by a more absorbing interest in the 
dialectical machinery which was to facilitate its acquisition, 
and this again by the social re-organisation which was to 
make education a department of the State ; so also the 
beneficent despotism originally invoked for the .purpose of 
establishing an aristocracy on the new model, came at last to 
be regarded by Plato as itself the best form of government. 
Such, at least, seems to be the drift of a remarkable Dialogue 
called the Statesman, which we agree with Prof. Jowett in 
placing immediatly before the Laivs. Some have denied its 
authenticity, and others have placed it very early in the entire 
series of Platonic compositions. But it contains passages of 

' Gesch. d. Ph., II., 175. 


such blended wit and eloquence that no other man could 
have written them ; and passages so destitute of life that they 
could only have been written when his system had stiffened 
into mathematical pedantry and scholastic routine. Moreover, 
it seems distinctly to anticipate the scheme of detailed legis- 
lation which Plato spent his last years in elaborating. After 
covering with ridicule the notion that a truly competent ruler 
should ever be hampered by written enactments, the principal 
spokesman acknowledges that, in the absence of such a ruler, 
a definite and unalterable code offers the best guarantees for 
political stability. 

This code Plato set himself to construct in his last and 
longest work, the Lazvs. Less than half of that Dialogue, 
however, is occupied with the details of legislation. The 
remaining portions deal with the familiar topics of morality, 
religion, science, and education. The first book propounds a 
very curious theory of asceticism, which has not, we believe, 
been taken up by any subsequent moralist. On the principle 
of in vino veintas Plato proposes that drunkenness should be 
systematically employed for the purpose of testing self-control. 
True temperance is not abstinence, but the power of resisting 
temptation ; and we can best discover to what extent any 
man possesses that power by surprising him when off his 
guard. If he should be proof against seductive influences 
even when in his cups, we shall be doubly sure of his constancy 
at other times. Prof. Jowett rather maliciously suggests that 
a personal proclivity may have suggested this extraordinary 
apology for hard drinking. Were it so, we should be re- 
minded of the successive revelations by which indulgences of 
another kind were permitted to Mohammed, and of the one 
case in which divorce v/as sanctioned by Auguste Comte. 
We should also remember that the Christian Puritanism to 
which Plato approached so near has always been singularly 
lenient to this disgraceful vice. But perhaps a somewhat 
higher order of considerations will help us to a better under- 


standing of the paradox. Plato was averse from rejecting 
any tendency of his age that could possibly be turned to 
account in his philosophy. Hence, as we have seen, the use 
which he makes of love, even under its most unlawful forms, 
in the Symposium and the PJiaednis. Now, it would appear, 
from our scanty sources of information, that social festivities, 
always very popular at Athens, had become the chief interest 
in life about the time when Plato was composing his Laivs. 
According to one graceful legend, the philosopher himself 
breathed his last at a marriage-feast. It may, therefore, have 
occurred to him that the prevalent tendency could, like the 
amorous passions of a former generation, be utilised for moral 
training and made subservient to the very cause with which, 
at first sight, it seemed to conflict. 

The concessions to common sense and to contemporary 
schools of thought, already pointed out in those Dialogues 
which we suppose to have been written after the Republic, are 
still more conspicuous in the Lazvs. We do not mean merely 
the project of a political constitution avowedly offered as the 
best possible in existing circumstances, though not the best 
absolutely ; but we mean that there is throughout a desire to 
present philosophy from its most intelligible, practical, and 
popular side. The extremely rigorous standard of sexual 
morality (p. ^'^^) seems, indeed, more akin to modern than to 
ancient notions, but it was in all probability borrowed from 
the naturalistic school of ethics, the forerunner of Stoicism ; 
for not only is there a direct appeal to Nature's teaching in 
that connexion ; but throughout the entire work the terms 
* nature ' and * naturally ' occur with greater frequency, we 
believe, than in all the rest of Plato's writings put together. 
When, on the other hand, it is asserted that men can be 
governed by no other motive than pleasure (p. 663, B), we seem 
to see in this declaration a concession to the Cyrenaic school, 
as well as a return to the forsaken standpoint of the Protago- 
ras. The increasing influence of Pythagoreanism is shown by 


the exaggerated importance attributed to exact numerical ' 
determinations. The theory of ideas is, as Prof. Jowett 
observes, entirely absent, its place being taken by the dis- 
tinction between mind and matter.^ 

The political constitution and code of laws recommended 
by Plato to his new city are adapted to a great extent from 
the older legislation of Athens. As such they have supplied 
the historians of ancient jurisprudence with some valuable 
.indications. But from a philosophic point of view the general 
impression produced is wearisome and even offensive. A 
universal system of espionage is established, and the odious 
trade of informer receives ample encouragement. Worst of 
all, it is proposed, in the true spirit of Athenian intolerance, 
to uphold religious orthodoxy by persecuting laws, Plato 
had actually come to think that disagreement with the vulgar 
theology was a folly and a crime. One passage may be 
quoted as a warning to those who would set early associa- 
tions to do the work of reason ; and who would overbear new 
truths by a method which at one time might have been used 
with fatal effect against their own opinions : — 

Who can be calm when he is called upon to prove the existence 
of the gods ? Who can avoid hating and abhorring the men who are 
and have been the cause of this argument? I speak of those who 
will not believe the words which they have heard as babes and suck- 
lings from their mothers and nurses, repeated by them both in jest 
and earnest like charms ; who have also heard and seen their parents 
offering up sacrifices and prayers — sights and sounds delightful to 
children — sacrificing, I say, in the most earnest manner on behalf 
of them and of themselves, and with eager interest talking to the gods 
and beseeching them as though they were firmly convinced of their 
existence ; who likewise see and hear the genuflexions and prostra- 
tions which are made by Hellenes and barbarians to the rising and 
setting sun and moon, in all the various turns of good and evil for- 

' In the work already referred to, Teichmiiller advances the startling theory 
that Aristotle's AHcoviachcan Ethics was published before the completion of the 
Lazus, and that Plato took the opportunity thus offered him for replying to the 
criticisms of his former pupil. \^Lit . Fehden, •^^^. 194-226). 


tune, not as if they thought that there were no gods, but as if there 
could be no doubt of their existence, and no suspicion of their non- 
existence ; when men, knowing all these things, despise them on no 
real grounds, as would be admitted by all who have any particle of 
intelligence, and when they force us to say what we are now saying, 
how can any one in gentle terms remonstrate with the like of them, 
when he has to begin by proving to them the very existence of the 
gods ? ' 

Let it be remembered that the gods of whom Plato is 
speaking are the sun, moon, and stars ; that the atheists whom 
he denounces only taught what we have long known to be true, 
which is that those luminaries are no more divine, no more 
animated, no more capable of accepting our sacrifices or re- 
sponding to our cries than is the earth on which we tread ; and 
that he attempts to prove the contrary by arguments which, 
even if they were not inconsistent with all that we know about 
mechanics, would still be utterly inadequate to the purpose for 
which they are employed. 

Turning back once more from the melancholy decline of a 
great genius to the splendour of its meridian prime, we will 
endeavour briefly to recapitulate the achievements which 
entitle Plato to rank among the five or six greatest Greeks, 
and among the four or five greatest thinkers of all time. He 
extended the philosophy of mind until it embraced not only 
ethics and dialectics but also the study of politics, of religion, 
of social science, of fine art, of economy, of language, and of 
education. In other words, he showed how ideas could be 
applied to life on the most comprehensive scale. Further, he 
saw that the study of Mind, to be complete, necessitates a 
knowledge of physical phenomena and of the realities which 
underlie them ; accordingly, he made a return on the object- 
ive speculations which had been temporarily abandoned, thus 
mediating between Socrates and early Greek thought ; while 
on the other hand by his theory of classification he mediated 
between Socrates and Aristotle. He based physical science 
' Legg., 887-8. Jowctt, v., 456. 


on mathematics, thus estabhshing a method of research and 
of education which has continued in operation ever since. 
He sketched the outlines of a new rehgion in which morality 
was to be substituted for ritualism, and intelligent imitation of 
God for blind obedience to his will ; a religion of monotheism, 
of humanity, of purity, and of immortal life. And he em- 
bodied all these lessons in a series of compositions distinguished 
by such beauty of form that their literary excellence alone 
would entitle them to rank among the greatest masterpieces 
that the world has ever seen. He took the recently-created 
instrument of prose style and at once raised it to the highest 
pitch of excellence that it has ever attained. Finding the new 
art already distorted by false taste and overlaid with mere- 
tricious ornament, he cleansed and regenerated it in that 
primal fount of intellectual life, that richest, deepest, purest 
source of joy, the conversation of enquiring spirits with one 
another, when they have awakened to the desire for truth and 
have not learned to despair of its attainment. Thus it was 
that the philosopher's mastery of expression gave added em- 
phasis to his protest against those who made style a substitute 
for knowledge, or, by a worse corruption, perverted it into an 
instrument of profitable wrong. They moved along the 
surface in a confused world of words, of sensations, and of 
animal desires ; he penetrated through all those dumb images 
and blind instincts, to the central verity and supreme end 
which alone can inform them with meaning, consistency, 
permanence, and value. To conclude : Plato belonged to 
that nobly practical school of idealists who master all the 
details of reality before attempting its reformation, and ac- 
complish their great designs by enlisting and reorganising 
whatever spontaneous forces are already working in the same 
direction ; but the fertility of whose own suggestions it needs 
more than one millennium to exhaust. There is nothing in 
heaven or earth that was not dreamt of in his philosophy : 



some of his dreams have already come true ; others still await 
their fulfilment ; and even those which are irreconcilable with 
the demands of experience will continue to be studied with 
the interest attaching to every generous and daring adven- 
ture, in the spiritual no less than in the secular order of 





Within the last twelve years several books, both large and 
small, have appeared, dealing either with the philosophy of 
Aristotle as a whole, or with the general principles on which 
it is constructed. The Berlin edition of Aristotle's collected 
works was supplemented in 1870 by the publication of a mag- 
nificent index, filling nearly nine hundred quarto pages, for 
which we have to thank the learning and industry of Bonitz.' 
Then came the unfinished treatise of George Grote, planned on 
so vast a scale that it would, if completely carried out, have 
rivalled the author's History of Greece in bulk, and perhaps 
exceeded the authentic remains of the Stagirite himself. As 
it is, we have a full account, expository and critical, of the 
Organoii, a chapter on the De Anitnd, and some fragments 
on other Aristotelian writings, all marked by Grote's won- 
derful sagacity and good sense. In 1879 a new and greatly 
enlarged edition brought that portion of Zeller's work on 
Greek Philosophy which deals with Aristotle and the Peri- 
patetics ^ fully up to the level of its companion volumes ; and 
we are glad to see that, like them, it is shortly to appear in 
an English dress. The older work of Brandis ^ goes over the 
same ground, and, though much behind the present state of 
knowledge, may still be consulted with advantage, on account 
of its copious and clear analyses of the Aristotelian texts. 

' Aristotelis Opera. Edidit Academia Regia Borussica. Berlin. 1831-70. 
^ Die Philosophie der Uriechen. Zweiter Theil, Zwei:e Abihcilun^^ ; Ans- 
Meles u, d. alttu Peripatdiker. By Dr. Eduard Zeller. Leipzig. 1879. 
" Aristoieles. By Christian Aug. Brandis. Berlin. 1853-57. 

T 2 


Together with these ponderous tomes, we have to mention 
the little work of Sir Alexander Grant/ which, although 
intended primarily for the unlearned, is a real contribution 
to Aristotelian scholarship, and, probably as such, received 
the honours of a German translation almost immediately after 
its first publication. Mr, Edwin Wallace's Outlijtes of the 
Philosophy of Aristotle"- is of a different and much less popular 
character. Originally designed for the use of the author's own 
pupils, it does for Aristotle's entire system what Trendelen- 
burg has done for his logic, and Ritter and Preller for all 
Greek philosophy — that is to say, it brings together the most 
important texts, and accompanies them with a remarkably 
lucid and interesting interpretation. Finally we have M. 
Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire's Introduction to his translation of 
Aristotle's Metaphysics, republished in a pocket volume.^ We 
can safely recommend it to those who wish to acquire a 
knowledge of the subject with the least possible expenditure 
of trouble. The style is delightfully simple, and that the 
author should write from the standpoint of the French spiritual- 
istic school is not altogether a disadvantage, for that school is 
partly of Aristotelian origin, and its adherents are, therefore, 
most likely to reproduce the master's theories with sympathe- 
tic appreciation. 

In view of such extensive labours, we might almost 
imagine ourselves transported back to the times when Chaucer 
could describe a student as being made perfectly happy by 


'■ At his beddes hed 
Twenty bookes clothed in blake or red 
Of Aristotle and his philosophic.' 

It seems as if we were witnessing a revival of Mediaevalism 

' Aristotle. By Sir Alexander Grant, Bart., LL.D. Edinburgh and London. 


2 Outlines of the Philosophy of Aristotle. Compiled by Edwin Wallace, M.A. 
Oxford and London. 1880. 

' De la Mctaphysique : Introduction a la Mctaphysique cfAristote. By Bar- 
thelemy Saint-Hilaire. Paris. 1879. 


under another form ; as if, after neo-Gothic architecture, pre- 
Raphaehtism, and rituahsm, we were threatened with a return 
to the scholastic philosophy which the great scientific reformers 
of the seventeenth century were supposed to have irrevocably 
destroyed. And, however chimerical may seem the hopes of 
such a restoration, we are bound to admit that they do actu- 
ally exist. One of the most cultivated champions of Ultra- 
montanism in this country, Prof. St. George Mivart, not 
long ago informed us, at the close of his work on Contempo- 
rary Evolution, that, 'if metaphysics are possible, there is 
not, and never was or will be, more than one philosophy 
which, properly understood, unites all truths and eliminates 
all errors — the Philosophy of the Philosopher — Aristotle.' 
It may be mentioned also, as a symptom of the same move- 
ment, that Leo XIII. has recently directed the works of 
St. Thomas Aquinas to be reprinted for use in Catholic 
colleges ; having, according to the newspapers, laid aside 
300,000 lire for that purpose — a large sum, considering his 
present necessities ; but not too much for the republication of 
eighteen folio volumes. Now, it is well known that the philo- 
sophy of Aquinas is simply the philosophy of Aristotle, with 
such omissions and modifications as were necessary in order 
to piece it on to Christian theology. Hence, in giving his 
sanction to the teaching of the Angelic Doctor, Leo XIII. in- 
directly gives it to the source from which so much of that 
teaching is derived. 

It may, perhaps, be considered natural that obsolete 
authorities should command the assent of a Church whose 
boast is to maintain the traditions of eighteen centuries intact. 
But the Aristotelian reaction extends to some who stand 
altogether aloof from Catholicism. M. Saint-Hilaire speaks 
in his preface of theology with dislike and suspicion ; he has 
recently held ofhce in a bitterly anti-clerical Government ; 
yet his acceptance of Aristotle's metaphysics is almost 
unreserved. The same tone is common to all official teaching 


in France ; and any departure from the strict Peripatetic 
standard has to be apologised for as if it were a dangerous 
heresy. On turning to our own country, we find, indeed, a 
marked change since the time when, accordingto Mr. Matthew 
Arnold, Oxford tutors regarded the Ethics as absolutely 
infallible. The great place given to Plato in public instruc- 
tion, and the rapidly increasing ascendency of evolutionary 
ideas, are at present enough to hold any rival authority in 
check ; still, not only are the once neglected portions of 
Aristotle's system beginning to attract fresh attention — 
which is an altogether commendable movement — but we also 
find the eminent Oxford teacher, whose work on the subject 
has been already referred to, expressing himself as follows : — 

We are still anxious to know whether our perception of a real 
world comes to us by an exercise of thought, or by a simple impres- 
sion of sense — whether it is the universal that gives the individual 
reality, or the individual that shapes itself, by some process not 
explained, into a universal — whether bodily movements are the 
causal antecedents of mental functions, or mind rather the reality 
which gives truth to body — whether the highest life is a life of 
thought or a life of action — whether intellectual also involves moral 
progress — whether the state is a mere combination for the preserva- 
tion of goods and property, or a moral organism developing the 
idea of right. And about these and such like questions Aristotle 

has still much to tell us His theory of a creative reason, 

fragmentary as that theory is left, is the answer to all materialistic 
theories of the universe. To Aristotle, as to a subtle Scottish 
preacher [Principal Caird] ' the real pre-supposition of all know- 
ledge, or the thought which is the pri'us of all things, is not the indi- 
vidual's consciousness of himself as individual, but a thought or 
self-consciousness which is beyond all individual selves, which is the 
unity of all individual selves and their objects, of all thinkers and all 
objects of all thought.' ' 

Our critics are not content with bringing up Aristotle as 
an authority on the metaphysical controversies of the present 
day, and reading into him theories of which he never dreamed : 

' Wallace's Out/ines, preface^ pp. vi-viii. 


they proceed to credit him with modern opinions which he 
would have emphatically repudiated, and modern methods 
which directly reverse his scientific teaching. Thus Sir A. 
Grant takes advantage of an ambiguity in the word Matter, 
as used respectively by Aristotle and by contemporary 
writers, to claim his support for the peculiar theories of Prof. 
Ferrier ; although the Stagirite has recorded his belief in the 
reality and independence of material objects (if not of what he 
called matter) with a positiveness which one would have 
thought left no possibility of misunderstanding him.^ And 
Mr. Wallace says that Aristotle ' recognises the genesis of 
things by evolution and development; ' a statement which, 
standing where it does, and with no more qualifications than 
are added to it, would make any reader not versed in the 
subject think of the Stagirite rather as a forerunner of Mr. 
Darwin and Mr. Herbert Spencer, than as the intellectua 
ancestor of their opponents; while, on a subsequent occasion, 
he quotes a passage about the variations of plants under do- 
mestication, from a work considered to be un-Aristotelian by 
the best critics, apparently with no other object than that of 
finding a piece of Darwinism in his author.^ 

In Germany, Neo-Aristotelianism has already lived out 
the appointed term of all such movements ; having, we believe, 
been brought into fashion by Trendelenburg about forty 
years ago. Since then, the Aristotelian system in all its 
branches has been studied with such profound scholarship 
that any illusions respecting its value for our present needs 
must, by this time, have been completely dissipated ; while 
the Hegelian dialectic, which it was originally intended to 
combat, no longer requires a counterbalance, having been 
entirely driven from German university teaching. Moreover, 
Lange's famous History of Materialism has dealt a staggering 
blow to the reputation of Aristotle, not merely in itself, but 
relatively to the services of early Greek thought ; although 

' As will be shown in the next chapter. '• Outlines, pp, 29 and 38. 


Lange goes too far into the opposite extreme when exalting 
Democritus at his expense.' We have to complain, however, 
that Zeller and other historians of Greek philosophy start 
with an invariable prejudice in favour of the later speculators 
as against the earlier, and especially in favour of Aristotle as 
against all his predecessors, even Plato included, which leads 
them to slur over his weak points, and to bring out his 
excellencies into disproportionate relief.- 

It is evident, then, that Aristotle cannot be approached 
with the same perfect dispassionateness as the other great 
thinkers of antiquity. He is, if not a living force, still a force 
which must be reckoned with in contemporary controversy. 
His admirers persist in making an authority of him, or at least 
of quoting him in behalf of their own favourite convictions. 
We are, therefore, bound to sift his claims with a severity 
which would not be altogether gracious in a purely historical 
review. At the same time it is hoped that historical justice 
will not lose, but gain, by such a procedure. We shall be the 
better able to understand what Aristotle was, after first 
showing what he neither was nor could be. And the utility 
of our investigations will be still further enhanced if we can 
show that he represents a fixed type regularly recurring in the 
revolutions of thought. 


Personally, we know more about Aristotle than about any 
other Greek philosopher of the classic period ; but what we 
know does not amount to much. It is little more than the 
skeleton of a life, a bald enumeration of names and dates and 
places, with a few more or less doubtful anecdotes interspersed. 
These we shall now relate, together with whatever inferences 
the facts seem to warrant. Aristotle was born 384 B.C., at 
Stageira, a Greek colony in Thrace. It is remarkable that 
every single Greek thinker of note, Socrates and Plato alone 

' Zclkr, op. ti/., p. 513. ^ Il'iii., p. 407. 


excepted, came from the confines of Hellenedom and barbar- 
ism. It has been conjectured by Auguste Comte, we know 
not with how much reason, that reh'gious traditions were 
weaker in the colonies than in the parent states, and thus 
allowed freer play to independent speculation. Perhaps, also, 
the accumulation of wealth was more rapid, thus affording 
greater leisure for thought ; while the pettiness of political 
life liberated a fund of intellectual energy, which in more 
powerful communities might have been devoted to the service 
of the State. Left an orphan in early youth, Aristotle was 
brought up by one Proxenus, to whose son, Nicanor, he 
afterwards repaid the debt of gratitude. In his eighteenth 
year he settled at Athens, and attended the school of Plato 
until the death of that philosopher twenty years afterwards. 
It is not clear whether the younger thinker was quite con- 
scious of his vast intellectual debt to the elder, and he 
continually emphasises the points on which they differ ; but 
personally his feeling towards the master was one of deep 
reverence and affection. In some beautiful lines, still extant, 
he speaks of * an altar of solemn friendship dedicated to one 
of whom the bad should not speak even in praise ; who alone, 
or who first among mortals, proved by his own life and by 
his system, that goodness and happiness go hand in hand ; ' 
and it is generally agreed that the reference can only be to 
Plato. Again, in his Ethia,, Aristotle expresses reluctance to 
criticise the ideal theory, because it was held by dear friends 
of his own ; adding the memorable declaration, that to a 
philosopher truth should be dearer still. What opinion Plato 
formed of his most illustrious pupil is less certain. According 
to one tradition, he surnamed Aristotle the Nous of his school. 
It could, indeed, hardly escape so penetrating an observer 
that the omnivorous appetite for knowledge, which he 
regarded as most especially characteristic of the philosophic 
temperament, possessed this young learner to a degree 
never before paralleled among the sons of men. He may, 


however, have considered that the Stagirite's method of 
acquiring knowledge was unfavourable to its fresh and vivid 
apprehension. An expression has been preserved which can 
hardly be other than genuine, so distinguished is it by that 
delicate mixture of compliment and satire in which Plato 
particularly excelled. He is said to have called Aristotle's 
house the ' house of the reader.' The author of the P/iacdniSy 
himself a tolerably voluminous writer, was, like Carlyle, not 
an admirer of literature. Probably it occurred to him that a 
philosophical student, who had the privilege of listening to his 
own lectures, might do better than shut himself up with a 
heap of manuscripts, away from the human inspiration of 
social intercourse, and the divine inspiration of solitary 
thought. We moderns have no reason to regret a habit 
which has made Aristotle's writings a storehouse of ancient 
speculations ; but from a scientific, no less than from an ar- 
tistic point of view, those works are overloaded with criticisms 
of earlier opinions, some of them quite undeserving of serious 

Philosophy was no sooner domiciled at Athens than its 
professors came in for their full share of the scurrilous person- 
alities which seem to have formed the staple of conversation 
in that enlightened capital. Aristotle, himself a trenchant 
and sometimes a bitterly scornful controversialist, did not 
escape ; and some of the censures passed on him were, rightly 
or wrongly, attributed to Plato. The Stagirite, who had been 
brought up at or near the Macedonian Court, and had in- 
herited considerable means, was, if report speaks truly, some- 
what foppish in his dress, and luxurious, if not dissipated in 
his habits. It would not be surprising if one who was left his 
own master at so early an age had at first exceeded the limits 
of that moderation which he afterwards inculcated as the 
golden rule of morals ; but the charge of extravagance was 
such a stock accusation at Athens, where the continued influ- 
ence of country life seems to have bred a prejudice in favour 


of parsimony, that it may be taken almost as an exoneration 
from graver imputations ; and, perhaps, an admonition from 
Plato, if any was needed, sufficed to check his disciple's ambi- 
tion for figuring as a man of fashion. 

We cannot tell to what extent the divergences which 
afterwards made Plato and Aristotle pass for types of the 
most extreme intellectual opposition were already manifested 
during their personal intercourse.' The tradition is that the 
teacher compared his pupil to a foal that kicks his mother 
after draining her dry. There is a certain rough truth as well 
as rough wit about the remark ; but the author of the Pa7-- 
menides could hardly have been much affected by criticisms on 
the ideal theory which he had himself reasoned out with equal 
candour and acuteness ; and if, as we sometimes feel tempted 
to conjecture, those criticisms were first suggested to him by 
Aristotle in conversation, it will be still more evident that they 
were received without offence,^ 

In some respects, Aristotle began not only as a disciple 
but as a champion of Platonism. On the popular side, that 
doctrine was distinguished by its essentially religious cha- 
racter, and by its opposition to the rhetorical training then in 
vogue. Now, Aristotle's dialogues, of which only a few frag- 
ments have been preserved, contained elegant arguments in 
favour of a creative First Cause, and of human immortality ; 
although in the writings which embody his maturer views, the 
first of these theories is considerably modified, and the second 
is absolutely rejected. Further, we are informed that Aristotle 
expressed himself in terms of rather violent contempt for 
Isocrates, the greatest living professor of declamation ; and 

' Written before the appearance of Telchmulier's Lit. Fehcicn (already re- 
ferred to in the preceding chapter). 

^ Zeller's opinion that all the Platonic Dialogues except the Laws were com- 
posed before Aristotle's arrival in Athens, does not seem to be supported by any 
satisfactory evidence. [Since the above was first published I have found that a similar 
view of the Farmenides had already been maintained by Tocco {Ricerche Plato- 
niche, p. 105); and afterwards, but independently, by Teichmiiller (Neue Stttdien, 
III. 363). See Chiapelli, Delia Litcypniatione pantcistica di Flatoiic, p. 152.] 


opened an opposition school of his own. This step has, 
curiously enough, been adduced as a further proof of disagree- 
ment with Plato, who, it is said, objected to all rhetorical 
teaching whatever. It seems to us that what he condemned 
was rather the method and aim of the then fashionable rhe- 
toric ; and a considerable portion of his PJiaedriis is devoted to 
proving how much more effectually persuasion might be pro- 
duced by the combined application of dialectics and psycho- 
logy to oratory. Now, this is precisely what Aristotle after- 
wards attempted to work out in the treatise on Rhetoric still 
preserved among his writings ; and we may safely assume 
that his earlier lectures at Athens were composed on the same 

In 347 Plato died, leaving his nephew Speusippus to 
succeed him in the headship of the Academy. Aristotle then 
left Athens, accompanied by another Platonist, Xenocrates, a 
circumstance tending to prove that his relations with the school 
continued to be of a cordial character. The two settled in 
Atarneus, at the invitation of its tyrant Hermeias, an old 
fellow-student from the Academy. Hermeias was a eunuch 
who had risen from the position of a slave to that of vizier, 
and then, after his master's death, to the possession of supreme 
power. Three years subsequently a still more abrupt turn of 
fortune brought his adventurous career to a close. Like Poly- 
crates, he was treacherously seized and crucified by order of 
the Persian Government. Aristotle, who had married Pythias, 
his deceased patron's niece, fled with her to Mitylene. Always 
grateful, and singularly enthusiastic in his attachments, he 
celebrated the memory of Hermeias in a manner which gave 
great offence to the religious sentiment of Hellas, by dedi- 
cating a statue to him at Delphi, and composing an elegy, still 
extant, in which he compares the eunuch-despot to Heracles, 
the Dioscuri, Achilles, and Ajax ; and promises him immor- 
tality from the Muses in honour of Xenian Zeus. 

When we next hear of Aristotle he is at the Macedonian 


Court,' acting as tutor to Alexander, the future conqueror of 
Asia, who remained under his charge between the ages of 
thirteen and sixteen years. The philosopher is more likely to 
have obtained this appointment by Court interest — his father 
was Court-physician to Alexander's grandfather, Amyntas — 
than by his reputation, which could hardly have been made 
until several years afterwards. Much has been made of a con- 
nexion which, although it did not last very long,appeals strongly 
to the imagination, and opens a large field for surmise. The 
greatest speculative and the greatest practical genius of that 
age — some might say of all ages — could not, one would think, 
come into such close contact without leaving a deep impres- 
sion on each other. Accordingly, the philosopher is supposed 
to have prepared the hero for his future destinies. Milton has 
told us how Aristotle * bred great Alexander to subdue the 
world.' Hegel tells us that this was done by giving him the 
consciousness of himself, the full assurance of his own powers ; 
for which purpose, it seems, the infinite daring of thought was 
required ; and he observes that the result is a refutation of 
the silly talk about the practical inutility of philosophy.^ 
It would be unfortunate if philosophy had no better testimonial 
to show for herself than the character of Alexander. It is not 
the least merit of Grote's History to have brought out in full 
relief the savage traits by which his conduct was marked from 
first to last. Arrogant, drunken, cruel, vindictive, and grossly 
superstitious, he united the vices of a Highland chieftain to 
the frenzy of an Oriental despot. No man ev^er stood further 
from the gravity, the gentleness, the moderation — in a word, 
the Sophrosyne of a true Hellenic hero. The time came when 
Aristotle himself would have run the most imminent personal 
risk had he been within the tyrant's immediate grasp. His 

' Teichmiiller infers, from certain expressions in the Panaihenaicus of 
Isocrates, that Aristotle had returned from Mitylene to Athens and resumed his 
former position as a teacher of rhetoric when the summons to Pella reached him. 
(/.//. Fehden, 261.) 

2 Gesch. d. Phil., 11. , 302. 


nephew, CalHsthenes, had incurred deep displeasure by pro- 
testing against the servile adulation, or rather idolatry, which 
Alexander exacted from his attendants, A charge of con- 
spiracy was trumped up against him, and even the exculpatory 
evidence, taken under torture, of his alleged accomplices did 
not save him. * I will punish the sophist,' wrote Alexander, 
' and those who sent him out.' It was understood that his 
old tutor was included in the threat. Fortunately, as Grote 
observes, Aristotle was not at Ecbatana but at Athens ; he 
therefore escaped the fate of CalHsthenes, who suffered death 
in circumstances, according to some accounts, of great atrocity. 

Zeller finds several good qualities in Alexander — pre- 
cocious statesmanship, zeal for the extension of Hellenic 
civilisation, long-continued self-restraint under almost irre- 
sistible temptation, and through all his subsequent aberrations 
a nobility, a moral purity, a humanity, and a culture, which 
raise him above every other great conqueror ; and these he 
attributes, in no small degree, to the fostering care of Aris- 
totle ; • yet, with the exception of moral purity, which was 
probably an affair of temperament, and has been remarked to 
an equal extent in other men of the same general character, he 
was surpassed, in all these respects, by Julius Caesar; while 
the ruthless vindictiveness, which was his worst passion, 
exhibited itself at the very beginning of his reign by the 
destruction of Thebes. A varnish of literary culture he un- 
doubtedly had, and for this Aristotle may be thanked ; but 
any ordinary sophist would probably have effected as much. 
As to the Hellenising of Western Asia, this, accordingto Grote, 
was the work, not of Alexander, but of the Diadochi after 

The profit reaped by Aristotle from the connexion seems 
equally doubtful. Tradition tells us that enormous sums of 
money were spent in aid of his scientific researches, and a 
whole army of crown servants deputed to collect information 

' Zeller, op. cii., p. 25. 


bearing on his zoological studies. Modern explorations, how- 
ever, have proved that the conquests of Alexander, at least, 
did not, as has been pretended, supply him with any new 
specimens ; nor does the knowledge contained in his extant 
treatises exceed what could be obtained either by his own 
observations or by private enquiries. At the same time we 
may suppose that his services were handsomely rewarded, 
and that his official position at the Macedonian Court gave 
him numerous opportunities for conversing with the grooms, 
huntsmen, shepherds, fishermen, and others, from whom most 
of what he tells us about the habits of animals was learned. 
In connexion with the favour enjoyed by Aristotle, it must be 
mentioned as a fresh proof of his amiable character, that he 
obtained the restoration of Stageira, which had been ruthlessly 
destroyed by Philip, together with the other Greek cities of 
the Chalcidic peninsula. 

Two passages in Aristotle's writings have been supposed 
to give evidence of his admiration for Alexander. One is the 
description of the magnanimous man in the Ethics. The 
other is a reference in the Politics to an ideal hero, whose 
virtue raises him so high above the common run of mortals 
that their duty is to obey him as if he were a god. But the 
magnanimous man embodies a grave and stately type of 
character quite unlike the chivalrous, impulsive theatrical 
nature of Alexander,' while probably not unfrequent among 
real Hellenes ; and the god-like statesman of the Politics is 
spoken of rather as an unattainable ideal than as a contem- 
porary fact. On the whole, then, we must conclude that the 
intercourse between these two extraordinary spirits has left 
no distinct trace on the actions of the one or on the thoughts 
of the other. 

On Alexander's departure for the East, Aristotle returned 
to Athens, where he now placed himself at the head of a new 
philosophical school. The ensuing period of thirteen years 
* Cf. Teichmiiller, Lit. Fehden, 192. 


was fully occupied by the delivery of public lectures, and by 
the composition of those encyclopaedic writings which will 
preserve his memory for ever, along, perhaps, with many 
others which have not survived. Like Anaxagoras, he was 
not allowed to end his days in the city of his adoption. His 
youthful attacks on Isocrates had probably made him many 
enemies among that rhetor's pupils. It is supposed by Grote, 
but warmly disputed by Zeller, that his trenchant criticisms 
on Plato had excited a similar animosity among the sectaries 
of the Academy.' Anyhow, circumstances had unavoidably 
associated him with the detested Macedonian party, although 
his position, as a metic, or resident alien, debarred him from 
taking any active part in politics. With Alexander's death 
the storm broke loose. A charge was trumped up against 
Aristotle, on the strength of his unlucky poem in honour of 
Hermeias, which was described as an insult to religion. That 
such an accusation should be chosen is characteristic of Athe- 
nian bigotry, even should there be no truth in the story that 
certain philosophical opinions of his were likewise singled out 
for prosecution. Before the case came on for trial, Aristotle 
availed himself of the usual privilege allowed on such occasions, 
and withdrew to Chalcis, in order, as he said, that the Athe- 
nians need not sin a second time against philosophy. But his 
constitution, naturally a feeble one, was nearly worn out. A 
year afterwards he succumbed to a stomach complaint, aggra- 
vated, if not produced, by incessant mental application. His 
contemporary, Demosthenes, perished about the same time, 
and at the same age, sixty-two. Within little more than a 
twelvemonth the world had lost its three greatest men ; and 
after three centuries of uninterrupted glory, Hellas was left 
unrepresented by a single individual of commanding genius. 

We are told that when his end began to approach, the 
dying philosopher was pressed to choose a successor in the 
headship of the School. The manner in which he did this is 

' Zeller, p. 38. 


characteristic of his singular gentleness and unwillingness to 
give offence. It was understood that the choice must lie 
between his two most distinguished pupils, Theophrastus of 
Lesbos, and Eudemus of Rhodes. Aristotle asked for speci- 
mens of the wine grown in those islands. He first essayed the 
Rhodian vintage, and praised it highly, but remarked after 
tasting the other, * The Lesbian is sweeter,' thus revealing his 
preference for Theophrastus, who accordingly reigned over the 
Lyceum in his stead. • 

A document purporting to be Aristotle's will has been 
preserved by Diogenes Laertius, and although some objec- 
tions to its authenticity have been raised by Sir A. Grant, 
they have, in our opinion, been successfully rebutted by 
Zeller.^ The philosopher's testamentary dispositions give one 
more proof of his thoughtful consideration for the welfare of 
those about him, and his devotion to the memory of departed 
friends. Careful provision is made for the guardianship of his 
youthful children, and for the comfort of his second wife, 
Herpyllis, who, he says, had ' been good to ' him. Certain 
slaves, specified by name, are to be emancipated, arid to 
receive legacies. None of the young slaves who waited on 
him are to be sold, and on growing up they are to be set free 
' if they deserve it' The bones of his first wife, Pythias, are, 
as she herself desired, to be laid by his. Monuments are to 
be erected in memory of his mother, and of certain friends, 
particularly Proxenus, who had been Aristotle's guardian, and 
his family. 

In person Aristotle resembled the delicate student of 
modern times rather than the athletic figures of his prede- 
cessors. Pie was not a soldier like Socrates, nor a gymnast 
like Plato. To judge from several allusions in his works, he 
put great faith in walking as a preservative of health — even 
when lecturing he liked to pace up and down a shady avenue. 
And, probably, a constitutional was the severest exercise that 

' Ritter and Trellcr, Hist. Ph., p. 329. - Zeller, p. 41, note 2. 



he ever took. He spoke with a sort of hsp, and the ex- 
pression of his mouth is said to have been sarcastic ; but the 
traits preserved to us in marble tell only of meditation, and 
perhaps of pain. A free-spoken and fearless critic, he was 
not over-sensitive on his own account. When told that some- 
body had been abusing him in his absence, the philosopher 
replied, ' He may beat me, too, if he likes — in my absence.' 
He might be abused, even in his own presence, without 
departing from the same attitude of calm disdain, much to -the 
disappointment of his petulant assailants. His equanimity 
was but slightly disturbed by more public and substantial 
affronts. When certain honorary distinctions, conferred on 
him by a popular vote at Delphi, were withdrawn, probably 
on the occasion of his flight from Athens, he remarked with 
his usual studied moderation, that, while not entirely indifferent, 
he did not feel very deeply concerned ; a trait which illustrates 
the character of the ' magnanimous man ' far better than any- 
thing related of Alexander. Two other sayings have an almost 
Christian tone ; when asked how we should treat our friends, 
he replied, ' As we should wish them to treat us ; ' and on 
being reproached with wasting his bounty on an unworthy 
object, he observed, * it was not the person, but the human 
being that I pitied.' ' 

Still, taking it altogether, the life of Aristotle gives one 
the impression of something rather desultory and dependent, 
not proudly self-determined, like the lives of the thinkers who 
went before him. We are reminded of the fresh starts and 
the appeals to authority so frequent in his writings. He is 
first detained at Athens twenty years by the attraction of 
f lato ; and no sooner is Plato gone, than he falls under the 
influence of an entirely different character — Hermeias. Even 
when his services are no longer needed he lingers near the 
Macedonian Court, until Alexander's departure leaves him 
once more without a patron. The most dignified period of 

' Diog. L., v., 1 7-2 1. 


his whole career is that during which he presided over the 
Peripatetic School ; but he owes this position to foreign 
influence, and loses it with the temporary revival of Greek 
liberty. A longer life would probably have seen him return 
to Athens in the train of his last patron Antipater, whom, as 
it was, he appointed executor to his will. This was just the 
sort of character to lay great stress on the evidentiary value 
of sensation and popular opinion. It Avas also the character 
of a conservative who was likely to believe that things had 
always been very much what they were in his time, and 
would continue to remain so ever afterwards. Aristotle was 
not the man to imagine that the present order of nature had 
sprung out of a widely different order in the remote past, nor 
to encourage such speculations when they were offered to him 
by others. He would not readily believe that phenomena, as 
he knew them, rested on a reality which could neither be seen 
nor felt. Nor, finally, could he divine the movements w^hich 
were slowly undermining the society in which he lived, still less 
construct an ideal polity for its reorganisation on a higher 
and broader basis. And here we at once become conscious 
of the chief difference separating him from his master, Plato. 


It is an often-quoted observation of Friedrich Schlegel's 
that every man is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian. 
If we narrow the remark to the only class which, perhaps, its 
author recognised as human beings, namely, all thinking men, 
it will be found to contain a certain amount of truth, though 
probably not what Schlegel intended ; at any rate something 
requiring to be supplemented by other truths before its full 
meaning can be understood. The common opinion seems to 
be that Plato was a transcendentalist, while Aristotle was an 
experientialist ; and that this constitutes the most typical 
distinction between them. It would, however, be a mistake to 


suppose that the a priori and a posteriori methods were marked 
off with such definiteness in Plato's time as to render possible 
a choice between them. The opposition was not between 
general propositions and particular facts, but between the 
most comprehensive and the most limited notions. It was as 
if the question were now to be raised whether we should begin 
to teach physiology by at once dividing the organic from the 
inorganic world, or by directing the learner's attention to some 
one vital act. Now, we are expressly told that Plato hesitated 
between these two methods ; and in his Dialogues, at least, 
we find the easier and more popular one employed by prefer- 
ence. It is true that he often appeals to wide principles which 
do not rest on an adequate basis of experimental evidence ; 
but Aristotle does so also, more frequently even, and, as the 
event proved, with more fatal injury to the advance of know- 
ledge. In his Rhetoric he even goes beyond Plato, construct- 
ing the entire art from the general principles of dialectics, 
psychology, and ethics, without any reference, except for the 
sake of illustration, to existing models of eloquence. 

According to Sir A. Grant, it is by the mystical and 
poetical side of his nature that Plato differs from Aristotle. 
The one ' aspired to a truth above the truth of scientific 
knowledge ' ; the other to ' methodised experience and the 
definite.' ^ Now, setting aside the question whether there is 
any truth above the truth of scientific knowledge, we doubt 
very much whether Plato believed in its existence. He held 
that the most valuable truth was that which could be imparted 
to others by a process even more rigorous than mathematical 
reasoning ; and there was no reality, however transcendent, 
that he did not hope to bring within the grasp of a dialectic 
without which even the meanest could not be understood. 
He did, indeed, believe that, so far, the best and wisest of 
mankind had owed much more to a divinely implanted instinct 
than to any conscious chain of reflection ; but he distinctly 

' Grant's Arislotk, p. 7. 


asserted the inferiority of such guidance to the light of 
scientific knowledge, if this could be obtained, as he hoped 
that it could. On the other hand, Aristotle was probably 
superior to Plato as a poet ; and in speaking about the highest 
realities he uses language which, though less rich and ornate 
than his master's, is not inferior to it in force and fervour ; 
while his metaphysical theories contain a large element of 
what would now be considered mysticism, that is, he often 
sees evidence of purpose and animation where they do not 
really exist. His advantage in definiteness is, of course, in- 
disputable, but this was, perhaps, because he came after Plato 
and profited by his lessons. 

Yet there ivas a difference between them, marking off each 
as the head of a whole School much wider than the Academy 
or the Lyceum ; a difference which we can best express by 
saying that Plato was pre-eminently a practical, Aristotle 
pre-eminently a speculative genius. The object of the one 
was to reorganise all human life, that of the other to re- 
organise all human knowledge. Had the one lived earlier, 
he would more probably have been a great statesman or a 
great general than a great writer; the other would at no time 
have been anything but a philosopher, a mathematician, or a 
historian. Even from birth they seemed to be respectively 
marked out for an active and for a contemplative life : the 
one, a citizen of the foremost State in Hellas, sprung from a 
family in which political ambition was hereditary, himself 
strong, beautiful, fascinating, eloquent, and gifted with the 
keenest insight into men's capacities and motives ; the other 
a Stagirite and an Asclepiad, that is to say, without oppor- 
tunities for a public career, and possessing a hereditary apti- 
tude for anatomy and natural history, fitted by his insigni- 
ficant person and delicate constitution for sedentary pursuits, 
and better able to acquire a knowledge even of human nature 
from books than from a living converse with men and affairs. 
Of course, we are not for a moment denying to Plato a fore- 


most place among the masters of those who know ; he 
embraced all the science of his age, and to a great extent 
marked out the course which the science of future ages was to 
pursue ; nevertheless, for him, knowledge was not so much 
an end in itself as a means for the attainment of other ends, 
among which the preservation of the State seems to have 
been, in his eyes, the most important. Aristotle, on the other 
hand, after declaring happiness to be the supreme end, defines 
it as an energising of man's highest nature, which again he iden- 
tifies with the reasoning process or cognition in its purest form. 
The same fundamental difference comes out strongly in 
their respective theologies. Plato starts with the conception 
that God is good, and being good wishes everything to re- 
semble himself; an assumption from which the divine origin 
and providential government of the world are deduced. 
Aristotle thinks of God as exclusively occupied in self-con- 
templation, and only acting on Nature through the love which 
his perfection inspires. If, further, we consider in what rela- 
tion the two philosophies stand to ethics, we shall find that, to 
Plato, its problems were the most pressing of any, that they 
haunted him through his whole life, and that he made contri- 
butions of extraordinary value towards their solution ; while 
to Aristotle, it was merely a branch of natural history, a study 
of the different types of character to be met with in Greek 
society, without the faintest perception that conduct required 
to be set on a wider and firmer basis than the conventional 
standards of his age. Hence it is that, in reading Plato, we 
are perpetually reminded of the controversies still raging 
among ourselves. He gives us an exposition, to which 
nothing has ever been added, of the theory now known as 
Egoistic Hedonism ; he afterwards abandons that theory, and 
passes on to the social side of conduct, the necessity of justice, 
the relation of private to public interest, the bearing of religion, 
education, and social institutions on morality, along with 
other kindred topics, which need not be further specified, as 


they have been discussed with sufficient fulness in the pre- 
ceding chapter. ' Aristotle, on the contrary, takes us back into 
old Greek life as it was before the days of Socrates, noticing 
the theories of that great reformer only that he may reject 
them in favour of a narrow, common-sense standard. Virtuous 
conduct, he tells us, consists in choosing a mean between two 
extremes. If we ask how the proper mean is to be discovered, 
he refers us to a faculty called cf)p6vr](ris, or practical reason ; 
but on further enquiry it turns out that this faculty is possessed 
by none who are not already virtuous. To the question. How 
arc men made moral .'' he answers, By acquiring moral 
habits ; which amounts to little more than a restatement of 
the problem, or, at any rate, suggests another more difficult 
question — How are good habits acquired } 

An answer might conceivably have been supplied, had 
Aristotle been enable to complete that sketch of an ideal 
State which was originally intended to form part of his 
Politics. But the philosopher evidently found that to do so 
was beyond his powers. If the seventh and eighth books of 
that treatise, which contain the fragmentary attempt in ques- 
tion, had originally occupied the place where they now stand 
in our manuscripts, it might have been supposed that Aristotle's 
labours were interrupted by death. Modern criticism has 
shown, howev^er, that they should follow immediately after 
the first three books, and that the author broke off, almost at 
the beginning of his ideal polity, to take up the much more 
congenial task of analysing and criticising the actually existing 
Hellenic constitutions. But the little that he has done proves 
him to have been profoundly unfitted for the task of a practi- 
cal reformer. What few actual recommendations it contains 
are a compromise— somewhat in the spirit of Plato's Lazes — 
between the Republic and real life. The rest is what he never 
fails to give us — a mass of details about matters of fact, and 
a summary of his speculative ethics, along with counsels of 
moderation in the spirit of his practical ethics ; but not one 


practical principle of any value, not one remark to show that 
he understood what direction history was taking, or that he 
had mastered the elements of social reform as set forth in 
Plato's works. The progressive specialisation of political 
functions ; the necessity of a spiritual power ; the formation 
of a trained standing army ; the admission of women to public 
employments ; the elevation of the whole race by artificial 
selection ; the radical reform of religion ; the reconstitution of 
education, both literary and scientific, the redistribution of 
property ; the enactment of a new code ; the use of public 
opinion as an instrument of morah'saticn ; — these are the ideas 
which still agitate the minds of men, and they are also the 
ideas of the Republic, the Statesman, and the Lazvs. Aristotle, 
on the other hand, occupies himself chiefly with discussing 
how far a city should be built from the sea, whether it should 
be fortified ; how its citizens should not be employed ; when 
people should not marry ; what children should not be per- 
mitted to see ; and what music they should not be taught. 
Apart from his enthusiasm for philosophy, there is nothing 
generous, nothing large-minded, nothing inspiring. The terri- 
tory of the city is to be self-sufficing, that it may be isolated 
from other States ; the citizens are to keep aloof from all in- 
dustrial occupations ; science is put out of relation to the 
material well-being of mankind. It was, in short, to be a 
city where every gentleman should hold an idle fellowship ; a 
city where Aristotle could live without molestation, and in the 
enjoyment of congenial friendships ; just as the God of his 
system was a still higher Aristotle, perpetually engaged in the 
study of formal logic. 

Even in his much-admired criticisms on the actually exist- 
ing types of government our philosopher shows practical weak- 
ness and vacillation of character. There is a good word for 
them all — for monarchy, for aristocracy, for middle-class rule, 
and even for pure democracy.' The fifth book, treating of 

' We think, however, that Mr. Edwin Wallace has overstated the case, when 


political revolutions, is unquestionably the ablest and most 
interesting in the whole work ; but when Aristotle quits the 
domain of natural history for that of practical suggestions, with 
a view to obviate the dangers pointed out, he can think of 
nothing better than the old advice — to be moderate, even 
where the constitutions which moderation is to preserve are 
by their very nature so excessive that their readjustment and 
equilibration would be equivalent to their destruction. And 
in fact, Aristotle's proposals amount to this — that government 
by the middle class should be established wherever the ideal 
aristocracy of education is impracticable ; or else a govern- 
ment in which the class interests of rich and poor should be 
so nicely balanced as to obviate the danger of oligarchic or 
democratic injustice. His error lay in not perceiving that the 
only possible means of securing such a happy mean was to 
break through the narrow circle of Greek city life ; to continue 
the process which had united families into villages, and 
villages into towns ; to confederate groups of cities into larger 

he makes Aristotle say that ' democracy is not unlikely with the spread of popu- 
lation to become the ultimate form of government ; and may be anticipated with- 
out dread by considering that the collective voice of a people is as likely to be 
sound in state administration as in criticisms on art,' pp. 57-8. In the first 
place, the expressions of opinion which are brought together in Mr. Wallace's 
summary are separated in the original text by a considerable interval — an im- 
portant circumstance when we are dealing with so inconsistent a writer ; then 
what Aristotle says about the collective wisdom of the people, besides being ad- 
vanced with extreme hesitation, is not a reassurance against any danger to be 
dreaded from their supremacy, but an answer to the argument that the few had a 
natural right to political power from their greater wealth and better education ; 
the whole question being, in this connexion, one of political justice, not of politi- 
cal expediency ; finally, not only is ' ultimate form of government ' a very strong 
rendering of the Greek words, but what Aristotle says on the subject in his third 
book is virtually retracted in the fifth, where oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny 
are regarded as succeeding each other in any order indifferently, and Plato (or the 
Platonic Socrates) is censured for assuming a constant sequence of revolutions. 
The explanation of this change seems to be that when Aristotle wrote his third 
book he was only acquainted with the history of Athens and a few other of the 
greater states, but that subsequently a vast collection of facts bearing on the subject 
came to his knowledge, showing that each form of government embraced more 
varieties and admitted of more mutations than he had been originally aware of ; 
and this led to a complete recast of his opinions. 


states ; and so, by striking an average of different inequalities, 
to minimise the risk of those incessant revolutions which had 
hitherto secured the temporary triumph of alternate factions 
at the expense of their common interest. And, in fact, the 
spontaneous process of aggregation, which Aristotle did not 
foresee, has alone sufficed to remedy the evils which he saw, 
but could not devise any effectual means of curing, and at the 
same time has bred new evils of which his diagnosis naturally 
took no account. 

But, if this be so, it follows that Mr. Edwin Wallace's 
appeal to Aristotle as an authority worth consulting on our 
present social difficulties cannot be upheld. Take the ques- 
tion quoted by Mr. Wallace himself: ' Whether the State is a 
mere combination for the preservation of goods and propertyj 
or a moral organism developing the idea of right .''■' Aristotle 
certainly held very strong opinions in favour of State interfer- 
ence with education and private morality, if that is what the 
second alternative implies ; but does it follow that he would 
agree with those who advocate a similar supervision at the 
present day } By no means ; because experience has shown 
that in enormous industrial societies like ours, protection is 
attended with difficulties and dangers which he could no more 
foresee than he could foresee the discoveries on which our 
physical science is based. Or, returning for a moment to 
ethics, let us take another of Mr. W^allace's problems : 
* Whether intellectual also involves moral progress } ' What 
possible light can be thrown on it by Aristotle's exposure of 
the powerlessness of right knowledge to make an individual 
virtuous, when writers like Buckle have transferred the whole 
question from a particular to a general ground ; from the 
conduct of individuals to the conduct of men acting in large 
masses, and over vast periods of time .'' Or, finally, take the 
question which forms a point of junction between Aristotle's 
ethics and his politics : ' Whether the highest life is a life of 
thought or a life of action ? ' Of what importance is his 


decision to us, who attend far more to the social than to the 
individual consequences of actions ; who have learned to take 
into account the emotional element of happiness, which Aris- 
totle neglected ; who are uninfluenced by his appeal to the 
blissful theorising of gods in whom we do not believe ; for 
whom, finally, experience has altogether broken down the 
antithesis between knowledge and practice, by showing that 
speculative ideas may revolutionise the whole of life ? Aris- 
totle is an interesting historical study ; but we are as far be- 
yond him in social as in physical science. 


On turning to Aristotle's Rhetoric we find that, from a 
practical point of view, his failure here is, if possible, still 
more complete. This treatise contains, as we have already 
observed, an immense mass of more or less valuable infor- 
mation on the subject of psychology, ethics, and dialectic, 
but gives exceedingly little advice about the very essence of 
rhetoric as an art, which is to say whatever you have to say 
in the most telling manner, by the arrangement of topics and 
arguments, by the use of illustrations, and by the choice of 
language ; and that little is to be found in the third book, 
the genuineness of which is open to very grave suspicion. It 
may be doubted v/hether any orator or critic of oratory was 
ever benefited in the slightest degree by the study of 
Aristotle's rules. His collections of scientific data add 
nothing to our knowledge, but only throw common experience 
into abstract formulas ; and even as a body of memoranda 
they would be useless, for no memory could contain them, or 
if any man could remember them he would have intellect 
enough not to require them.' The professional teachers whom 

' Many of the topics noted are not only trite enough, but have no possible 
bearing on the subject under which they stand. For instance, in discussing 
judicial eloquence Aristotle goes into the motives for committing crime ; among 


Aristotle so heartily despised seem to have followed a much 
more effectual method than his ; they gave their pupils ready- 
made speeches to analyse and learn by heart, rightly trusting 
to the imitative instinct to do the rest. He compares them 
to a master who should teach his apprentices how to make 
shoes by supplying them with a great variety of ready-made 
pairs. But this would be a much better plan than to give 
them an elaborate lecture on the anatomy of the foot, with a 
full enumeration of its bones, muscles, tendons, nerves, and 
blood-vessels, which is the most appropriate parallel to Jiis 
system of instruction. 

The Poetics of Aristotle contains some hints on the subject 
of composition which entitle it to be mentioned in the present 
connexion. The deficiencies, even from a purely theoretical 
point of view, of this work, once pronounced infallible, have at 
last become so obvious that elaborate hypotheses have been 
constructed, according to which the recension handed down to 
us is a mere mutilated extract from the original treatise. 
Enough, however, remains to convince us that poetry was not, 
any more than eloquence, a subject with which Aristotle was 
fitted to cope. He begins by defining it, in common with all 
other art, as an imitation. Here, we at once recognise the 
spirit of a philosophy, the whole power and interest of which 
lay in knowledge ; and, in fact, he tells us that the love of 
art is derived from the love of knowledge. But the truth 
seems to be that aesthetic enjoyment is due to an ideal 
exercise of our faculties, among which the power of perceiving 
identities is sometimes, though not alwa)s, included. That 
the materials of which every artistic creation is composed are 
taken from the world of our experience makes no difference ; 
for it is by the new forms in which they are arranged that we 
are interested, not because we remember having met them in 

these are pleasurable feelings of every kind, including the remembrance of past 
trouble. Even the hero of a spasmodic tragedy vv'ould hardly have committed an 
offence for the purpose of procuring himself this form of experience. 


some natural combination already. Aristotle could not help 
seeing that this was true in the case of music at least ; and he 
can only save his principle by treating musical effects as 
representations of passions in the soul. To say, however, that 
musical pleasure arises from a perception of resemblance 
between certain sounds and the emotions with which they are 
associated, would be an extremely forced interpretation ; the 
pleasure is due rather to a sympathetic participation in the 
emotion itself And when Aristotle goes on to tell us that 
the characters imitated in epic and dramatic poetry may be 
either better or worse than in ordinary life, he is obviously 
admitting other aesthetic motives not accounted for by his 
general theory. If, on the other hand, we start with ideal 
energising as the secret of aesthetic emotion, we can easily 
understand how an imaginary exaltation of our faculties is 
yielded by the spectacle of something either rising above, or 
falling below, the level on which we stand. In the one case 
we become momentarily invested with the strength put into 
action before our eyes ; in the other, the consciousness of our 
own superiority amounts to a fund of reserve power, which 
not being put into action, is entirely available for ideal 
enjoyment. And, if this be the correct view, it will follow 
that Aristotle was quite wrong when he declared the plot to 
be more important than the characters of a drama. The 
reason given for his preference is, even on the principles of his 
own philosophy, a bad one. He says that there can be plot 
without character-drawing, but never character-drawing 
without plot. Yet he has taught us elsewhere that the human 
soul is of more value than the physical organism on which its 
existence depends. This very parallel suggests itself to him 
in his Poetics ; but, by an almost inconceivable misjudgment, 
it is the plot which he likens to the soul of the piece, whereas 
in truth it should be compared to the body. The practice 
and preference of his own time may have helped to mislead 
him, for he argues (rather inconsistently, by the way) that plot 


must be more indispensable, as young writers are able to 
construct good stories before they are able to portray 
character ; and more artistic, as it was developed much later 
in the historical evolution of tragedy. Fortunately for 
us, the Alexandrian critics were guided by other canons 
of taste, or the structurally faulty pieces of Aeschylus might 
have been neglected, and the ingeniously constructed pieces 
of Agathon preserved in their place. 

It is probable, however, that Aristotle's partiality was 
determined more by the systematising and analytical character 
of his own genius than by the public opinion of his age ; or 
rather, the same tendency was at work in philosophy and in 
art at the same time, and the theories of the one were uncon- 
sciously pre-adapted to the productions of the other. In both 
there was a decay of penetration and of originality, of life and 
of inspiration ; in both a great development of whatever could 
be obtained by technical proficiency ; in both an extension of 
surface at the expense of depth, a gain of fluency, and a loss 
of force. But poetry lost far more than philosophy by the 
change ; and so the works of the one have perished while the 
works of the other have survived. 

Modern literature offers abundant materials for testing 
Aristotle's theory, and the immense majority of critics have 
decided against it. Even among fairly educated readers few 
would prefer Moliere's UEtoiirdi to his MisantJirope, or 
Schiller's Maria Stuart to Goethe's Faust, or Lord Lytton's 
Lucretia to George Eliot's Rouiola, or Dickens's Tale of Two 
Cities to the same writer's NicJiolas Nickleby, or his Great 
Expectations to his David Copperjield, although in each 
instance the work named first has the better plot of the two. 

Characters, then, are not introduced that they may perform 
actions ; but actions are represented for the sake of the cha- 
racters who do them, or who suffer by them. It is not so 
much a ghostly apparition or a murder which interests us as 
the fact that the ghost appears to Hamlet, and that the murder 


is committed by Macbeth. And the same is true of the 
Greek drama, though not perhaps to the same extent. We 
may care for Oedipus chiefly on account of his adventures ; 
but we care far more for what Prometheus or Clytemnestra, 
Antigone or Ajax, say about themselves than for what they 
suffer or what they do. Tlius, and thus only, are we enabled 
to understand the tragic element in poetry, the production of 
pleasure by the spectacle of pain. It is not the satisfaction 
caused by seeing a skilful imitation of reality, for few have 
witnessed such awful events in real life as on the stage ; nor 
is it pain, as such, which interests us, for the scenes of torture 
exhibited in some Spanish and Bolognese paintings do not 
gratify, they revolt and disgust an educated taste. The true 
tragic emotion is produced, not by the suffering itself, but by 
the reaction of the characters against it ; for this gives, more 
than anything else, the idea of a force with which we can 
synergise, because it is purely mental ; or by the helpless sub- 
mission ol the victims whom we wish to assist because they are 
lovable, and whom we love still more from our inability to assist 
them, through the transformation of arrested action into feel- 
ing, accompanied by the enjoyment proper to tender emotion. 
Hence the peculiar importance of the female parts in dramatic 
poetry. Aristotle tells us that it is bad art to represent 
women as nobler and braver than men, because they are not 
so in reality.^ Nevertheless, he should have noticed that on 
the tragic stage of Athens women first competed with men, 
then equalled, and finally far surpassed them in loftiness of 
character.^ But with his philosophy he could not see that, if 
heroines did not exist, it would be necessary to create them. 
For, if women are conceived as reacting against outward cir- 
cumstances at all, their very helplessness will lead to the 

• Poet., XV., p. 1454, a, 20. 
* Marrji' ^p' €js •yuvcuKa'i e| auSpccv ypoyos 
'VdWei Kivhv rd^eufxa Koi KaKws Aeyei, 
at 5' fla' afxeivovs apaevoov, iyoi Kfyco. 

Euripides, Frag. 512. (Didot.) 


storing of a greater mental tension in the shape of excited 
thought and feeling debarred from any manifestation except 
in words ; and it is exactly with this mental tension that the 
spectator can most easily synergise. The wrath of Orestes is 
not interesting, because it is entirely absorbed into the pre- 
meditation and execution of his vengeance. The passion of 
Electra is profoundly interesting, because it has no outlet but 
impotent denunciations of her oppressors, and abortive 
schemes for her deliverance from their yoke. Hence, also, 
Shakspeare produces some of his greatest effects by placing 
his male characters, to some extent, in the position of women, 
either through their natural weakness and indecision, as with 
Hamlet, and Brutus, and Macbeth, or through the paralysis of 
unproved suspicion, as with Othello ; while the greatest of all 
his heroines. Lady Macbeth, is so because she has the intellect 
and will to frame resolutions of dauntless ambition, and elo- 
quence to force them on her husband, without either the phy- 
sical or the moral force to execute them herself. In all these 
cases it is the arrest of an electric current which produces the 
most intense heat, or the most brilliant illumination. Again, 
by their extreme sensitiveness, and by the natural desire felt 
to help them, women excite more pity, which, as we have said, 
means more love, than men ; and this in the highest degree 
when their sufferings are undeserved. We see, then, how 
wide Aristotle went of the mark when he made it a rule that 
the sufferings of tragic characters should be partly brought on 
by their own fault, and that, speaking generally, they should 
not be distinguished for justice or virtue, nor yet for extreme 
wickedness.' The ' immoderate moderation ' of the Stagirite 
was never more infelicitously exhibited. For, in order to pro- 
duce truly tragic effects, excess of every kind not only may, 
but must, be employed. It is by the reaction of heroic forti- 
tude, either against unmerited outrage, or against the whole 
pressure of social law, that our synergetic interest is wound up 

' Poet., xiii., p. 1453, a, 8. 


to the intensest pitch. It is when we see a beautiful soul 
requited with evil for good that our eyes are filled with the 
noblest tears. Yet so absolutely perverted have men's minds 
been by the Aristotelian dictum that Gervinus, the great 
Shakspearian critic, actually tries to prove that Duncan, to 
some extent, deserved his fate by imprudently trusting him- 
self to the hospitality of Macbeth ; that Desdemona was very 
imprudent in interceding for Cassio ; and that it was treasonable 
for Cordelia to bring a French army into England ! The 
Greek drama might have supplied Aristotle with several deci- 
sive contradictions of his canons. He should have seen that 
the Pro7nethciis, the An tig-otie, and the Hippolytiis2.xe affecting 
in proportion to the pre-eminent virtue of their protagonists. 
The further fallacy of excluding very guilty characters is, of 
course, most decisively refuted by Shakspeare, whose Richard 
III., whose lago, and whose Macbeth excite keen interest by 
their association of extraordinary villainy with extraordinary 
intellectual gifts. 

So far Aristotle gives us a purely superficial and sensa- 
tional view of the drama. Yet he could not help seeing that 
there was a moral element in tragedy, and he was anxious to 
show, as against Plato, that it exercised an improving effect 
on the audience. The result is his famous theory of the 
Catharsis, so long misunderstood, and not certainly understood 
even now. The object of Tragedy, he tells us, is to purify 
(or purge away) pity and terror by means of those emotions 
themselves. The Poetics seems originally to have contained 
an explanation of this mysterious utterance, now lost, and 
critics have endeavoured to supply the gap by writing eighty 
treatises on the subject. The result has been at least to show what 
Aristotle did not mean. The popular version of his dictum, 
which is that tragedy purges the passions by pity and terror, 
is clearly inconsistent with the wording of the original text. 
Pity and terror are both the object and the instrument of 
purification. Nor yet does he mean, as was once supposed, 



that each of these emotions is to counterbalance and 
moderate the other ; for this would imply that they are 
opposed to one another, whereas in the Rhetoric he speaks 
of them as being akin ; while a parallel passage in the 
Politics ' shows him to have believed that the passions are 
susceptible of homoeopathic treatment. Violent enthusiasm, 
he tells us, is to be soothed and carried off by a strain of 
exciting, impassioned music. But whence come the pity and 
terror v/hich are to be dealt with by tragic poetry ? Not, 
apparently, from the piece itself, for to inoculate the patient 
with a new disease, merely for the sake of curing it, could do 
him no imaginable good. To judge from the passage in the 
Politics already referred to, he believes that pity and terror 
are always present in the minds of all, to a certain extent ; 
and the theory apparently is, that tragedy brings them to the 
surface, and enables them to be thrown off with an accom- 
paniment of pleasurable feeling. Now, of course, we have a 
constant capacity for experiencing every passion to which 
human nature is liable ; but to say that in the absence of its 
appropriate external stimulus we are ever perceptibly and 
painfully affected by any passion, is to assert what is not 
true of any sane mind. And, even were it so, were we con- 
stantly haunted by vague presentiments of evil to ourselves 
or others, it is anything but clear that fictitious representa- 
tions of calamity would be the appropriate means for enabling 
us to get rid of them. Zeller explains that it is the insight 
into universal laws controlling our destiny, the association of 
misfortune with a divine justice, which, according to Aristotle, 
produces the purifying effect ;"^ but this would be the purga- 
tion of pity and terror, not by themselves, but by the intellec- 
tual framework in which they are set, the concatenation of 
events, the v/orkings of character, or the reference of every- 
thing to an eternal cause. The truth is that Aristotle's 
explanation of the moral effect produced by tragedy is 

' Pol., VIII., vli., p. 1342, a, lo. '' Zeller, p. 780. 


irrational, because his whole conception of tragedy is mis- 
taken. The emotions excited by its highest forms are not 
terror and pity, but admiration and love, which, in their ideal 
exercise, are too holy for purification, too high for restriction, 
and too delightful for relief. 

Before parting with the Poetics we must add that it 
contains one excellent piece of advice to dramatists, which is, 
to imagine themselves present at the scenes which they are 
supposing to happen, and also at the representation of their 
own play. This, however, is an exception which proves the 
rule, for Aristotle's exclusively theoretic standpoint here, as 
will sometimes happen, coincides with the truly practical 

A somewhat similar observation applies to the art of rea- 
soning, which it would be possible to compile by bringing 
together all the rules on the subject, scattered through the 
Organon. Aristotle has discovered and formulated every 
canon of theoretical consistency, and every artifice of dialec- 
tical debate, with an industry and acuteness which cannot be 
too highly extolled ; and his labours in this direction have 
perhaps contributed more than those of any other single 
writer to the intellectual stimulation of after ages ; but the 
kind of genius requisite for such a task was speculative rather 
than practical ; there was no experience of human nature in 
its concrete manifestations, no prevision of real consequences 
involved. Such a code might be, and probably was to a 
great extent, abstracted from the Platonic dialogues ; but to 
work up the processes of thought into a series of dramatic 
contests, carried on between living individuals, as Plato has 
done, required a vivid perception and grasp of realities which, 
and not any poetical mysticism, is what positively distin- 
guishes a Platonist from an Aristotelian.' 

' As an illustration of the stimulating effect produced liy the study of Aristotle's 
logic, we quote the following anecdote from the notes to Whately's edition of 
Bacon's Essays : — 'The late Sir Alexander Johnstone, when acting as temporary 
(Governor of Ceylon (soim after its cession), sat once as judge m a trial of a prisoner 

X 2 



But if Aristotle had not his master's enthusiasm for 
practical reforms, nor his master's command of all the forces 
by which humanity is raised to a higher life, he had, more 
even than his master, the Greek passion for knowledge as 
such, apart from its utilitarian applications, and embracing 
in its vast orb the lowliest things with the loftiest, the most 
fragmentary glimpses and the largest revelations of truth. 
He demanded nothing but the materials for generalisation, 
and there was nothing from which he could not generalise. 
There was a place for everything within the limits of his 
world-wide system. Never in any human soul did the 

for a robbery and murder ; and the evidence seemed to him so conckisive, that he 
was about to charge the jury (who were native Cingalese) to find a verdict of 
guilty. But one of the jurors asked and obtained permission to examine the 
witnesses himself. He had them brought in one by one, and cross-examined 
them so ably as to elicit the fact that they were themselves the perpetrators of the 
crime, which they afterwards had conspired to impute to the prisoner. And they 
were accordingly put on their trial and convicted. Sir Alexander Johnstone was 
greatly struck by the intelligence displayed by this juror, the more so as he was 
only a small farmer, who was not known to have had any remarkable advantages 
of education. He sent for him, and after commending the wonderful sagacity he 
had shown, inqtiired eagerly what his studies had been. The man replied that 
he had never read but one book, the only one he possessed, which had long been 
in his family, and which he delighted to study in his leisure hours. This book he 
was prevailed on to show to Sir Alexander Johnstone, who put it into the hands 
of one who knew the Cingalese language. It turned out to be a translation into 
that language of a large portion of Aristotle's Orgauon. It appears that the 
Portuguese, when they first settled in Ceylon and other parts of the East, translated 
into the native languages several of the works then studied in the European 
Universities, among which were the Latin versions of Aristotle. The Cingalese 
in question said that if his understanding had been in any degree cultivated and 
improved, it was to that book that he owed it. It is likely, however (as was observed 
to me [Whately] by the late Bishop Copleston), that any other book, containing 
an equal amount of close reasoning and accurate definition, might have answered 
the same purpose in sharpening the intellect of the Cingalese.' Possibly, but not 
to the same effect. What the Cingalese got into his hands was a triple-distilled 
essence of Athenian legal procedure. The cross-examining elenchus was first 
borrowed by Socrates from the Athenian courts and applied to philosophical 
purposes ; it was still further elaborated by Plato, and finally reduced to abstract 
rules by Aristotle ; so that in using it as he did the juror was only restoring it to 
its original purposes. 


theorising passion burn with so clear and bright and pure a 
flame. Under its inspiration his style more than once breaks 
into a strain of sublime, though simple and rugged eloquence. 
Speaking of that eternal thought which, according to him, 
constitutes the divine essence, he exclaims : 

On this principle the heavens and Nature hang. This is that best 
life which we possess during a brief period only, for there it is so 
always, which with us is impossible. And its activity is pure plea- 
sure ; wherefore waking, feeling, and thinking, are the most pleasure- 
able states, on account of which hope and memory exist .... And 
of all activities theorising is the most delightful and the best, so 
that if God always has such happiness as we have in our highest 
moments, it is wonderful, and still more wonderful if he has more. ' 

Again, he tells us that — 

If happiness consists in the appropriate exercise of our vital func- 
tions, then the highest happiness must result from the highest activity, 
whether we choose to call that reason or anything else which is the 
ruling and guiding principle within us, and through which we form 
our conceptions of what is noble and divine ; and whether this be in- 
trinsically divine, or only the divinest thing in us, its appropriate 
activity must be perfect happiness. Now this, which we call the 
theoretic activity, must be the mightiest ; for reason is supreme in 
our souls and supreme over the objects which it cognises ; and it is 
also the most continuous, for of all activities theorising is that which 
can be most uninterruptedly carried on. Again, we think that some 
pleasure ought to be mingled with happiness ; if so, of all our proper 
activities philosophy is confessedly the most pleasurable, the enjoy- 
ments afforded by it being wonderfully pure and steady ; for the 
existence of those who are in possession of knowledge is naturally 
more delightful than the existence of those who merely seek it. Of 
all virtues this is the most self-sufficing ; for while in common with 
every other virtue it presupposes the indispensable conditions of life, 
wisdom docs not, like justice and temperance and courage, need 
human objects for its exercise ; theorising may go on in perfect 
solitude ; for the co-operation of other men, though helpful, is not 
absolutely necessary to its activity. All other pursuits are exercised 
for some end lying outside themselves \ war entirely for the sake of 

' Meiaph., XII., vii., p, 1072, b, 13, 


peace, and statesmanship in great part for the sake of honour and 
power ; but theorising yields no extraneous profit great or small, and 
is loved for itself alone. If, then, the energising of pure reason rises 
above such noble careers as war and statesmanship by its independ- 
ence, by its inherent delightfulness, and, so far as human frailty will 
permit, by its untiring vigour, this must constitute perfect human 
happiness ; or rather such a life is more than human, and man can 
only partake of it through the divine principle within him ; wherefore 
let us not listen to those who tell us that we should have no interests 
except what are human and mortal like ourselves ; but so far as may 
be put on immortality, and bend all our efforts towards living up to 
that element of our nature which, though small in compass, is in 
power and preciousne^s supreme.^ 

Let us now see how he carries this passionate enthusiasm 
for knowledge into the humblest researches of zoology : — 

Among natural objects, some exist unchanged through all eternity, 
while others are generated and deca)\ The former are divinely 
glorious, but being comparatively inaccessible to our means of ob- 
servation, far less is known of them than we could wish ; while 
perishable plants and animals offer abundant opportunities of study 
to us who live under the same conditions with them. Each science 
has a charm of its own. For knowledge of the heavenly bodies 
is so sublime a thing that even a little of it is more delightful than 
all earthly science put together ; just as the smallest glimpse of a 
beloved beauty is more delightful than the fullest and nearest revela- 
tion of ordinary objects; while, on the other hand, where there 
are greater facilities for observation, science can be carried much 
further ; and our closer kinship with the creatures of earth is some 
compensation for the interest felt in that philosophy which deals with 
the divine. Wherefore, in our discussions on living beings we shall, 
so far as possible, pass over nothing, whether it rank high or low in 
the scale of estimation. For even such of them as displease the 
senses, when viewed with the eye of reason as wonderful works of 
Nature afford an inexpressible pleasure to those who can enter 
philosophically into the causes of things. For, surely, it would be 
absurd and irrational to look with delight at the images of such 
objects on account of our interest in the pictorial or plastic skill 
which they exhibit, and not to take still greater pleasure in a scien- 

' Eth. Nic, X., vii. (somewhat condensed). 


"tific explanation of the realities themselves. We ought not then to 
shrink with childish disgust from an examination of the lower animals, 
for there is something wonderful in all the works of Nature ; and we 
may repeat what Heracleitus is reported to have said to certain 
strangers who had come to visit him, but hung back at the door 
when they saw him warming himself before a fire, bidding them 
come in boldly, for that there also there were gods ; not allowing 
ourselves to call any creature common or unclean, because there is 
a kind of natural beauty about them all. For, if anywhere, there is a 
pei-vading purpose in the works of Nature, and the realisation of 
this purpose is the beauty of the thing. But if anyone should 
look with contempt on the scientific examination of the lower 
animals, he must have the same opinion about himself; for the 
greatest repugnance is felt in looking at the parts of which the 
human body is composed, such as blood, muscles, bones, veins, and 
the like.' Similarly, in discussing any part or organ we should con- 
sider that it is not for the matter of which it consists that we care, 
but for the whole form ; just as in talking about a house it is not 
bricks and mortar and wood that we mean ; and so the theory of 
Nature deals with the essential structure of objects, not with the 
elements which, apart from that structure, would have no existence 
at all. 2 

It is well for the reputation of Aristotle that he could 
apply himself with such devotion to the arduous and, in his 
time, inglorious researches of natural history and comparative 
anatomy, since it was only in those departments that he 
made any real contributions to physical science. In the 
studies which were to him the noblest and most entrancing 
of any, his speculations are one long record of wearisome, 
hopeless, unqualified delusion. If, in the philosophy of 
practice and the philosophy of art, he afforded no real guid- 
ance at all, in the philosophy of Nature his guidance has 

' It is perfectly possible that Aristotle was not acquainted at first hand with 
human anatomy. But Sir A, Grant is hardly justified in observing that the words 
quoted above 'do not show the hardihood of the practised dissecter ' {^Aristotle, 
p. 3). Aristotle simply takes the popular point of view in order to prove that 
the internal structure of the lower animals is no more offensive to the eye than 
that of man. And, as he took so much delight in the former, nothing but want 
of opportunity is likely to have prevented him from extending his researches to 
the latter. - De Pari. An., I. v. 


always led men fatally astray. So far as his means of 
observation extended, there was nothing that he did not 
attempt to explain, and in every single instance he was 
wrong. Pie has written about the general laws of matter and 
motion, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, and physiology, 
with the result that he has probably made more blunders on 
those subjects than any human being ever made before or 
after him. And, if there is one thing more astounding than 
his unbroken infelicity of speculation, it is the imperturbable 
self-confidence with which he puts forward his fallacies as 
demonstrated scientific certainties. Had he been right, it 
was no * slight or partial glimpses of the beloved ' that would 
have been vouchsafed him, but the ' fullest and nearest 
revelation ' of her beauties. But the more he looked the less 
he saw. Instead of drawing aside he only thickened and 
darkened the veils of sense which obscured her, by mistaking 
them for the glorious forms that lay concealed beneath. 

Modern admirers of Aristotle labour to prove that his 
errors were inevitable, and belonged more to his age than to 
himself; that without the mechanical appliances of modern 
times science could not be cultivated with any hope of success. 
But what are we to say when we find that on one point after 
another the true explanation had already been surmLsed by 
Aristotle's predecessors or contemporaries, only to be scorn- 
fully rejected by Aristotle himself.'' Their hypotheses may 
often have been very imperfect, and supported by insufficient 
evidence ; but it must have been something more than chance 
which always led him wrong when they were so often rig^ t. 
To begin with, the infinity of space is not even now, nor will 
it ever be, established by improved instruments of observation 
and measurement ; it is deduced by a very simple process of 
reasoning, of which Democritus and others were capable, 
while Aristotle apparently was not. He rejects the idea 
because it is inconsistent with certain very arbitrary assump- 
tions and definitions of his own, whereas he should have 


rejected them because they were inconsistent with it. He 
further rejects the idea of a vacuum, and with it the atomic 
theory, entirely on a priori grounds, although, even in the 
then existing state of knowledge, atomism explained various 
phenomena in a perfectly rational manner which he could 
only explain by unmeaning or nonsensical phrases.* It had 
been already maintained, in his time, that the apparent 
movements of the heavenly bodies were due to the rotation 
of the earth on its own axis.^ Had Aristotle accepted this 
theory one can imagine how highly his sagacity would have 
been extolled. We may, therefore, fairly take his rejection 
of it as a proof of blind adherence to old-fashioned opinions. 
When he argues that none of the heavenly bodies rotate, 
because we can see that the moon does not, as is evident from 
her always turning the same side to us,^ nothing is needed 
but the simplest mathematics to demonstrate the fallacy of 
his reasoning. Others had surmised that the Milky Way was 
a collection of stars, and that comets were bodies of the same 
nature as planets. Aristotle is satisfied that both are appear- 
ances like meteors, and the aurora borealis — caused by the 
friction of our atmosphere against the solid aether above it. 
A similar origin is ascribed to the heat and light derived 
from the sun and stars ; for it would be derogatory to the 
dignity of those luminaries to suppose, with Anaxagoras, that 
they are formed of anything so familiar and perishable as 
fire. On the contrary, they consist of pure aether like the 
spheres on which they are fixed as protuberances ; though 

' Compare the arguments in Phys., IV., ix. 

^ The hypothesis of the earth's diurnal rotation had clearly been suggested by 
a celebrated passage in Plato's Timaeiis, though whether Plato himself held it is 
still doubtful. That he accepted the revolution of the celestial spheres is abso- 
lutely certain ; but while to our mii.ds the two beliefs are mutually exclusive, Grote 
thinks that Plato overlooked the inconsistency. It seems probable that the one 
was at first actually a generalisation from the other ; it was thought that the earth 
must revolve because the crystal spheres revolved ; then the new doctrine, thus 
accidentally struck out, was used to destroy the old one. 

* De Coel,, II., viii., 290, a, 26. 


how such an arrangement can co-exist with absolute contact 
between each sphere and that next below it, or how the 
effects of friction could be transmitted through such enormous 
thicknesses of solid crystal, is left unexplained.' By a happy 
anticipation of Roemer, Empedocles conjectured that the 
transmission of light occupied a certain time : Aristotle 
declares it to be instantaneous.^ 

On passing to terrestrial physics, we find that Aristotle is, 
as usual, the dupe of superficial appearances, against which 
other thinkers were on their guard. Seeing that fire always 
moved up, he assumed that it did so by virtue of a natural 
tendency towards the circumference of the universe, as 
opposed to e^th, which always moved towards the centre. 
The atomists ifcrroneously held that all matter gravitated 
downwards thr&gh infinite space, but correctly explained the 
ascent of heated particles by the pressure of surrounding 
matter, in accordance, most probably, with the analogy of 
floating bodies.^ Chemistry as a science is, of course, an 
entirely modern creation, but the first approach to it was 
made by Democritus, while no ancient philosopher stood 
farther from its essential principles than Aristotle, He 
analyses bodies, not into their material elements, but into the 
sensuous qualities, hot and cold, wet and dry, between which 
he supposes the underlying substance to be perpetually oscil- 
lating ; a theory which, if it were true, would make any fixed 
laws of nature impossible. 

It might have been expected that, on reaching physiology, 
the Stagirite would stand on firmer ground than any of his 
contemporaries. Such, however, is not the case. As already 
observed, his achievements belong entirely to the dominion 
of anatomy and descriptive zoology. The whole internal 
economy of the animal body is, according to him, designed 
for the purpose of creating and moderating the vital heat ; 

' Zellcr, p. 469. ' De Sens., vi., 446, a, 26. 

' Dc CoeL, I., viii., 277, b, 2. 


and in apportioning their functions to the different organs he 
is entirely dominated by this fundamental error. It was a 
common notion among the Greeks, suggested by sufficiently 
obvious considerations, that the brain is the seat of the 
psychic activities. These, however, Aristotle transports to 
the heart, which, in his system, not only propels the blood 
through the body, but is also the source of heat, the common 
centre where the different special sensations meet to be 
compared, and the organ of imagination and of passion. The 
sole function of the brain is to cool down the blood — a 
purpose which the lungs also subserve. Some persons 
believe that air is a kind of food, an 1 is inhaled in order to 
feed the internal fire ; but their theory would involve the 
absurd consequence that all animals breathe, for all have 
some heat. Anaxagoras and Diogenes did, indeed, make 
that assertion, and the latter even went so far as to say that 
fish breathe with their gills, absorbing the air held in solution 
by the water passed through them — a misapprehension, says 
Aristotle, which arose from not having studied the final cause 
of respiration.' His physiological theory of generation is 
equally unfortunate. In accordance with his metaphysical 
system, hereafter to be explained, he distinguishes two 
elements in the reproductive process, of which one, that con- 
tributed by the male, is exclusively formative ; and the other, 
that contributed by the female, exclusively material. The 
prevalent opinion was evidently, what we know now to be 
true, that each parent has both a formative and a material 
share in the composition of the embryo. Again, Aristotle, 
strangely enough, regards the generative element in both 
sexes as an unappropriated portion of the animal's nutriment, 
the last and most refined product of digestion, and therefore 
not a portion of the parental system at all ; while other 
biologists, anticipating Mr. Darwin's theory of pangenesis in 
a very wonderful manner, taught that the semen is a con- 
' De Respir., i. and ii. 


flux of molecules derived from every part of the body, and 
thus strove to account for the hereditary transmission of 
individual peculiarities to offspring.^ 

All these, however, are mere questions of detail. It is on 
a subject of the profoundest philosophical importance that 
Aristotle differs most consciously, most radically, and most 
fatally from his predecessors. They were evolutionists, and 
he was a stationarist. They were mechanicists, and he was 
a teleologist. They were uniformitarians, and he was a dualist. 
It is true that, as we mentioned at the beginning of this 
chapter, Mr. Edwin Wallace makes him ' recognise the genesis 
of things by evolution and development,' but the meaning of 
this phrase requires to be cleared up. In one sense it is, of 
course, almost an identical proposition. The genesis of 
things must be by genesis of some kind or other. The 
great question is, what things have been evolved, and how 
have they been evolved ? Modern science tells us, that not 
only have all particular aggregates of matter and motion 
now existing come into being within a finite period of time, 
but also that the specific types under which we arrange those 
aggregates have equally been generated ; and that their 
characteristics, whether structural or functional, can only be 
understood by tracing out their origin and history. And it 
further teaches us that the properties of every aggregate 
result from the properties of itsultimate elements, which, within 
the limits of our experience, remain absolutely unchanged. 
Now, Aristotle taught veiy nearly the contrary of all this. 
He believed that the cosmos, as we now know it, had existed, 
and would continue to exist, unchanged through all eternity. 
The sun, moon, planets, and stars, together with the orbs 
containing them, are composed of an absolutely ungenerable, 
incorruptible substance. The earth, a cold, heavy, solid 
sphere, though liable to superficial changes, has always 
occupied its present position in the centre of the universe. 
' Dc Gen, Aft., I., xvii. 


The specific forms of animal life — except a few which are 
produced spontaneously — have, in like manner, been pre- 
served unaltered through an infinite series of generations. 
Man shares the common lot. There is no continuous 
progress of civilisation. Every invention and discovery has 
been made and lost an infinite number of times. Our 
philosopher could not, of course, deny that individual living 
things come into existence and gradually grow to maturity ; 
but he insists that their formation is teleologically determined 
by the parental type which they are striving to realise. He 
asks whether we should study a thing by examining how it 
grows, or by examining its completed form : and Mr. Wallace 
quotes the question without quoting the answer.^ Aristotle 
tells us that the genetic method was followed by his prede- 
cessors, but that the other method is his. And he goes on 
to censure Empedocles for saying that many things in the 
animal body are due simply to mechanical causation ; for 
example, the segmented structure of the backbone, which 
that philosopher attributes to continued doubling and twist- 
ing — the very same explanation, we believe, that would be 
given of it by a modern evolutionist.^ Finally, Aristotle 
assumes the only sort of transformation which we deny, and 
which Democritus equally denied — that is to say. the trans- 
formation of the ultimate elements into one another by the 
oscillation of an indeterminate matter between opposite 

' Otitlittes, p. 30. 

^ There is a passage in the Politics (I., ii., sub. in.) in which Aristotle dis- 
tinctly inculcates the method of studying things Ly observing how they are tirst 
produced, and how they grow ; but this is quite inconsistent with tlie more de- 
liberate opinion referred to in the text {De Fart. An., I., i., p, 640, a, 10). Per- 
haps, in writing the first book of the Politics he was more immediately under the 
influence of Plato, who preferred the old genetic method in practice, though not 
in theory. 



The truth Is that while our philosopher had one of the 
most powerful intellects ever possessed by any man, it was 
an intellect strictly limited to the surface of things. He was 
utterly incapable of divining the hidden forces by which 
inorganic nature and life and human society are moved. He 
had neither the genius which can reconstruct the past, nor 
the genius which partly moulds, partly foretells the future. 
But wherever he has to observe or to report, to enumerate or 
to analyse, to describe or to define, to classify or to compare ; 
and whatever be the subject, a mollusc or a mammal, a mouse 
or an elephant ; the structure and habits of wild animals ; 
the different stages in the development of an embryo bird ; 
the variations of a single organ or function through the 
entire zoological series ; the hierarchy of intellectual faculties ; 
the laws of mental association ; the specific types of 
virtuous character ; the relation of equity to law ; the relation 
of reason to impulse ; the ideals of friendship ; the different 
members of a household ; the different orders in a State ; the 
possible variations of political constitutions, or within the 
same constitution ; the elements of dramatic or epic poetry ; 
the modes of predication ; the principles of definition, classi- 
fication, judgment, and reasorJng ; the different systems of 
philosophy ; all varieties of passion, all motives to action, all 
sources of conviction ; — there we find an enormous accumula- 
tion of knowledge, an unwearied patience of research, a sweep 
of comprehension, a subtlety of discrimination, an accuracy of 
statement, an impartiality of decision, and an all-absorbing 
enthusiasm for science, which, if they do not raise him to the 
supreme level of creative genius, entitle him to rank a very 
little way below it. 

It was natural that one who ranged with such consummate 
mastery over the whole world of apparent reality, should 
believe in no other reality ; that for him truth should onl}- 


mean the systematisation of sense and language, of opinion, 
and of thought. The visible order of nature was present to 
his imagination in such precise determination and fulness of 
detail that it resisted any attempt he might have made to 
conceive it under a different form. Each of his conclusions 
was supported by analogies from every other department of 
enquiry, because he carried the peculiar limitations of his 
thinking faculty with him wherever he turned, and uncon- 
sciously accommodated every subject to the framework which 
they imposed. The clearness of his ideas necessitated the use 
of sharply-drawn distinctions, which prevented the free play 
of generalisation and fruitful interchange of principles between 
the different sciences. And we shall have occasion to show 
hereafter, that, when he attempted to combine rival theories, 
it was done by placing them in juxtaposition rather than by 
mutual interpenetration. Again, with his vivid perceptions, 
it was impossible for him to believe in the justification of any 
method claiming to supersede, or even to supplement, their 
authority. Hence he was hardly less opposed to the atomism 
of Democritus than to the scepticism of Protagoras or the 
idealism of Plato. Hence, also, his dislike for all explanations 
which assumed that there were hidden processes at work 
below the surface of things, even taking surface in its most 
literal sense. Thus, in discussing the question why the sea 
is salt, he will not accept the theory that rivers dissolve out 
the salt from the strata through which they pass, and carry it 
down to the sea, because river-water tastes fresh ; and pro- 
pounds in its stead the utterly false hypothesis of a dry 
saline evaporation from the earth's surface, which he supposes 
to be swept seawards by the wind.' Even in his own especial 
province of natural history the same tendency leads him 
astray. He asserts that the spider throws off its web from 
the surface of its body like a skin, instead of evolving it from 
within, as Democritus had taught.-' The same thinker had 

' Meteor., II.. iii., 357, a, 15 [{. " Hi^t. An., IX., xxxix., sub fn. 


endeavoured to prove by analogical reasoning that the 
invertebrate animals must have viscera, and that only their 
extreme minuteness prevents us from perceiving them ; a 
view which his successor will not admit.' In fact, wherever 
the line between the visible and the invisible is crossed, 
Aristotle's powers are suddenly paralysed, as if by enchant- 

Another circumstance which led Aristotle to disregard 
the happy apergus of earlier philosophers was his vast 
superiority to them in positive knowledge. It never occurred 
to him that their sagacity might be greater than his, precisely 
because its exercise was less impeded by the labour of acquir- 
ing and retaining such immense masses of irrelevant facts. 
And his confidence was still further enhanced by the convic- 
tion that all previous systems were absorbed into his own, their 
scattered truths co-ordinated, their aberrations corrected, and 
their discords reconciled. But in striking a general average 
of existing philosophies, he was in reality bringing them back 
to that anonymous philosophy which is embodied in common 
language and common opinion. And if he afterwards ruled 
the minds of men with a more despotic sway than any other 
intellectual master, it was because he gave an organised 
expression to the principle of authority, which, if it could, 
would stereotype and perpetuate the existing type of civilisa- 
tion for all time. 

Here, then, are three main points of distinction between 
our philosopher and his precursors, the advantage being, so 
far, entirely on their side. He did not, like the Ionian 
physiologists, anticipate in outline our theories of evolution. 
He held that the cosmos had always been, by the strictest 
necessity, arranged in the same manner ; the starry revolu- 
tions never changing ; the four elements preserving a constant 
balance ; the earth always solid ; land and water always 
distributed according to their present proportions ; living 

' De Part. An., III., iv., suh in. 


species transmitting the same unalterable type through an 
infinite series of generations ; the human race enjoying an 
eternal duration, but from time to time losing all its conquests 
in some great physical catastrophe, and obliged to begin over 
again with the depressing consciousness that nothing could 
be devised which had not been thought of an infinite number 
of times already ; the existing distinctions between Hellenes 
and barbarians, masters and slaves, men and women, 
grounded on everlasting necessities of nature. He did not, 
like Democritus, distinguish between objective and subjective 
properties of matter ; nor admit that void space extends to 
infinity round the starry sphere, and honeycombs the objects 
which seem most incompressible and continuous to our senses. 
He did not hope, like Socrates, for the regeneration of the 
individual, nor, like Plato, for the regeneration of the race, by 
enlightened thought. It seemed as if Philosophy, abdicating 
her high function, and obstructing the paths which she had 
first opened, were now content to systematise the forces of 
prejudice, blindness, immobility, and despair. 

For the restrictions under which Aristotle thought were 
not determined by his personality alone ; they followed on 
the logical development of speculation, and would have im- 
posed themselves on any other thinker equally capable of 
carrying that development to its predetermined goal. The 
Ionian search for a primary cause and substance of nature led 
to the distinction, made almost simultaneously, although from 
opposite points of view, by Parmenides and Heracleitus, 
between appearance and reality. From that distinction 
sprang the idea of mind, organised by Socrates into a syste- 
matic study of ethics and dialectics. Time and space, the 
necessary conditions of physical causality, were eliminated 
from a method having for its form the eternal relations of 
difference and resemblance, for its matter the present interests 
of humanity. Socrates taught that before enquiring whence 
things come we must first determine what it is they are. 



Hence he reduced science to the framing of exact definitions. 
Plato followed on the same track, and refused to answer a 
single question about anything until the subject of investiga- 
tion had been clearly determined. But the form of causation 
had taken such a powerful hold on Greek thought, that it 
could not be immediately shaken off; and Plato, as he devoted 
more and more attention to the material universe, saw him- 
self compelled, like the older philosophers, to explain its con- 
struction by tracing out the history of its growth. What is 
even more significant, he applied the same method to ethics 
and politics, finding it easier to describe how the various 
virtues and types of social union came into existence, than to 
analyse and classify them as fixed ideas without reference to 
time. Again, while taking up the Eleatic antithesis of reality 
and appearance, and re-interpreting it as a distinction between 
noumena and phenomena, ideas and sensations, spirit and 
matter, he was impelled by the necessity of explaining him- 
self, and by the actual limitations of experience to assimilate 
the two opposing series, or, at least, to view the fleeting, 
superficial images as a reflection and adumbration of the being 
which they concealed. And of all material objects, it seemed 
as if the heavenly bodies, with their orderly, unchanging 
movements, their clear brilliant light, and their remoteness 
from earthly impurities, best represented the philosopher's 
ideal. Thus, Plato, while on the one side he reaches back to 
the pre-Socratic age, on the other reaches forward to the 
Aristotelian system. 

Nor was this all. As the world of sense was coming back 
into favour, the world of reason was falling into disrepute. 
Just as the old physical philosophy had been decomposed by 
the Sophisticism of Protagoras and Gorgias, so also the 
dialectic of Socrates was corrupted into the sophistry of 
Eubulides and Euthydemus. Plato himself discovered that 
by reasoning deductively from purely abstract premises, con- 
tradictory conclusions could be established with apparently 


equal force. It was difficult to see how a decision could be 
arrived at except by appealing to the testimony of sense. And 
a moral reform could hardly be effected except by similarly 
taking into account the existing beliefs and customs of mankind. 
It is possible, we think, to trace a similar evolution in the 
history of the Attic drama. The tragedies of Aeschylus 
resemble the old Ionian philosophy in this, that they are 
filled with material imagery, and that they deal with remote 
interests, remote times, and remote places. Sophocles with- 
draws his action into the subjective sphere, and simultaneously 
works out a pervading contrast between the illusions by which 
men are either lulled to false security or racked with needless 
anguish, and the terrible or consolatory reality to which they 
finally awaken. We have also, in his well-known irony, in 
the unconscious self-betrayal of his characters, that subtle 
evanescent allusiveness to a hidden truth, that gleaming of 
reality through appearance which constitutes, first the 
dialectic, then the mythical illustration, and finally the physics 
of Plato. In Aeschylus also we have the spectacle of sudden 
and violent vicissitudes, the abasement of insolent prosperity, 
and the punishment of long successful crime ; only with him 
the characters which attract most interest are not the blind 
victims, but the accomplices or the confidants of destiny — the 
great figures of a Prometheus, a Darius, an Eteocles, a Cly- 
temnestra, and a Cassandra, who are raised above the common 
level to an eminence where the secrets of past and future are 
unfolded to their gaze. Far otherwise with Sophocles. The 
leading actors in his most characteristic works, Oedipus, 
Electra, Dejanira, Ajax, and Philoctetes, are surrounded by 
forces which they can neither control nor understand ; moving 
in a world of illusion, if they help to work out their own 
destinies it is unconsciously, or even in direct opposition to 
their own designs.^ Hence in Aeschylus we have something 

' This characterisation applies neither to the Antigone nor to the Oedipus in 
Colonus, the first and the last extant dramas of Sophocles. The reason is 

Y 2 


like that superb self-confidence which distinguishes a Par- 
menides and a Heracleitus ; in Sophocles that confession of 
human ignorance which the Athenian philosophers made on 
their own behalf, or strove to extract from others. Euripides 
introduces us to another mode of thought, more akin to that 
which characterises Aristotle. For, although there is abun- 
dance of mystery in his tragedies, it has not the profound 
religious significance of the Sophoclean irony ; he uses it 
rather for romantic and sentimental purposes, for the con- 
struction of an intricate plot, or for the creation of pathetic 
situations. His whole power is thrown into the immediate 
and detailed representation of living passion, and of the sur- 
roundings in which it is displayed, without going far back 
into its historical antecedents like Aeschylus, or, like 
Sophocles, into the divine purposes which underlie it. On 
the other hand, as a Greek writer could not be other than 
philosophical, he uses particular incidents as an occasion for 
wide generalisations and dialectical discussions ; these, and 
not the idea of justice or of destiny, being the pedestal on 
which his figures are set. And it may be noticed as another 
curious coincidence that, like Aristotle again, he is disposed 
to criticise his predecessors, or at least one of them, Aeschylus, 
with some degree of asperity. 

The critical tendency just alluded to suggests one more 
reason why philosophy, from having been a method of dis- 
covery, should at last become a mere method of description 
and arrangement. The materials accumulated by nearly 
three centuries of observation and reasoning were so enormous 
that they began to stifle the imaginative faculty. If there 
was any opening for originality it lay. in the task of carrying 
order into this chaos by reducing it to a few general heads, 
by mapping out the v/hole field of knowledge, and subjecting 
each particular branch to the new-found processes of definition 

that the one is still half Aeschylean, and the other distinctly an imitation of 


and classification. And along with the incapacity for framing 
new theories there arose a desire to diminish the number of 
those already existing, to frame, if possible, a system which 
should select and combine whatever was good in any or all 
of them. 


This, then, was the revolution effected by Aristotle, that 
he found Greek thought in the form of a solid, and unrolled 
into a surface of the utmost possible tenuity, transparency, 
and extension. In so doing, he completed what Socrates and 
Plato had begun, he paralleled the course already described 
by Greek poetry, and he offered the first example of what 
since then has more than once recurred in the history of 
philosophy. It was thus that the residual substance of Locke 
and Berkeley was resolved into phenomenal succession by 
Hume. It was thus that the unexplained reality of Kant and 
Fichte was drawn out into a play of logical relations by 
Hegel. And, if we may venture on a forecast of the future 
towards which speculation is now advancing, it is thus that 
the limits imposed on human knowledge by positivists and 
agnostics in our own day, are yielding to the criticism of those 
who wish to establish either a perfect identity or a perfect 
equation between consciousness and being. This is the posi- 
tion represented in France by M. Taine, a thinker offering 
many points of resemblance to Aristotle, which it would be 
interesting to work out had we space at our command for the 
purpose. The forces which are now guiding English phi- 
losophy in an analogous direction have hitherto escaped 
observation on account of their disunion among themselves, 
and their intermixture with others of a different character. 
But on the whole we may say that the philosophy of Mill and 
his school corresponds very nearly in its practical idealism 
to Plato's teaching ; that Mr. Herbert Spencer approaches 


Aristotle on the side of theorising systematisation, while 
sharing to a more limited extent the metaphysical and 
political realism which accompanied it ; that Lewes was 
carrying the same transformation a step further in his un- 
finished Problems of Life and Mind; that the philosophy of 
Mr. Shadworth Hodgson is marked by the same spirit of 
actuality, though not without a vista of multitudinous pos- 
sibilities in the background ; that the Neo-Hegelian school 
are trying to do over again for us what their master did in 
Germany ; and that the lamented Professor Clifford had 
already given promise of one more great attempt to widen the 
area of our possible experience into co-extension with the 
whole domain of Nature.' 

The systematising power of Aristotle, his faculty for bring- 
ing the isolated parts of a surface into co-ordination and con- 
tinuity, is apparent even in those sciences with whose material 
truths he was utterly unacquainted. Apart from the falseness 
of their fundamental assumptions, his scientific treatises are, 
for their time, masterpieces of method. In this respect they 
far surpass his moral and metaphysical works, and they are 
also written in a much more vigorous style, occasionally even 
rising into eloquence. He evidently moves with much more 
assurance on the solid ground of external nature than in the 
cloudland of Platonic dialectics, or among the possibilities of 
an ideal morality. If, for example, we open his Physics, we 
shall find such notions as Causation, Infinity, Matter, Space, 
Time, Motion, and Force, for the first time in history 
separately discussed, defined, and made the foundation of 
natural philosophy. The treatise On the Heavefts very pro- 
perly regards the celestial movements as a purely mechanical 
problem, and strives throughout to bring theory and practice 

' Cf. the memorable declaration of Mr. F. Pollock : ' To me it amounts to a 
contradiction in terms to speak of unknowable existence or unknowable reality in 
an absolute sense. I cannot tell what existence means if not the possibility 
of being known or perceived.' — Sfinoza, p. 163. 


into complete agreement. While directly contradicting the 
truths of modern astronomy, it stands on the same ground 
with them ; and anyone who had mastered it would be far 
better prepared to receive those truths than if he were only 
acquainted with such a work as Plato's Timaeiis. The re- 
maining portions of Aristotle's scientific encyclopaedia follow 
in perfect logical order, and correspond very nearly to 
Auguste Comte's classification, if, indeed, they did not 
directly or indirectly suggest it. We cannot, however, view 
the labours of Aristotle with unmixed satisfaction until he 
comes on to deal with the provinces of natural history, com- 
parative anatomy, and comparative psychology. Here, as 
we have shown, the subject exactly suited the comprehensive 
observation and systematising formalism in which he excelled. 
Here, accordingly, not only the method but the matter of 
his teaching is good. In theorising about the causes of 
phenomena he was behind the best science of his age ; in 
dissecting the phenomena themselves he was far before it. 
Of course very much of what he tells was learned at second- 
hand, and some of it is not authentic. But to collect such 
masses of information from the reports of uneducated hunters, 
fishermen, grooms, shepherds, beemasters, and the like, 
required an extraordinary power of putting pertinent ques- 
tions, such as could only be acquired in the school of Socratic 
dialectic. Nor should we omit to notice the vivid intelli- 
gence which enabled even ordinary Greeks to supply him 
with the facts required for his generalisations. But some of 
his most important researches must be entirely original. For 
instance, he must have traced the development of the embryo 
chicken with his own eyes ; and, here, we have it on good 
authority that his observations are remarkable for their 
accuracy, in a field where accuracy, according to Caspar 
Friedrich Wolff, is almost impossible.' 

' Aristotelcs von d. Zeiigiiif^ ii. Entwickcliiii^- d. Tliicre. Aubert u, W'imuier, 
Einleitung, p. 15. 


Still more important than these observations themselves 
is the great truth he derives from them — since rediscovered 
and worked out in detail by Von Baer— that in the develop- 
ment of each individual the generic characters make their 
appearance before the specific characters,' Nor is this a 
mere accidental or isolated remark, but, as we shall show in 
the next chapter, intimately connected with one of the 
philosopher's metaphysical theories. Although not an evolu- 
tionist, he has made other contributions to biology, the im- 
portance of which has been first realised in the light of the 
evolution theory. Thus he notices the antagonism between 
individuation and reproduction ;'^ the connexion of increased 
size with increased vitality ; ^ the connexion of greater 
mobility,^ and of greater intelligence,^ with increased com- 
plexity of structure ; the physiological division of labour in 
the higher animals ; ^ the formation of heterogeneous organs 
out of homogeneous tissues ; '' the tendency towards greater 
centralisation in the higher organisms ^ — a remark connected 
with his two great anatomical discoveries, the central position 
of the heart in the vascular system, and the possession of a 
backbone by all red-blooded animals ; ^ the resemblance of 
animal intelligence to a rudimentary human intelligence, 
especially as manifested in children ; '° and, finally, he 
attempts to trace a continuous series of gradations connecting 
the inorganic with the organic world, plants with animals, 
and the lower animals with man." 

The last mentioned principle gives one more illustration of 
the distinction between Aristotle's system and that of the 
evolutionist, properly so called. The continuity recognised 

' De Gen. An., II., iii., 736, b, i. ^ /^/^__ i_^ xviii., 725, b, 25. 

» De Respir., 477, a, 18. ■• De Part. An., I., vii., sub. in. 

5 Ibid., II., X., 656, a, 4. « Ibid., IV., vi., 683, a, 25. ' Ibid., II., i. 
* Ibid., IV., v., 682, a, 8; De Long., vi,, 467, a, 18 ; De Ingr. An., vii., 
707, a, 24. 

"> De Part. Ait., II., ix., 664, b, II ; ZtUcr, p. 522, 

'" Hist. An., VIII,, i , sub in. " Zcller, p. 553. 


by the former only obtains among a number of coexisting 
types ; it is a purely logical or ideal arrangement, facilitating 
the acquisition and retention of knowledge, but adding 
nothing to its real content. The continuity of the latter 
implies a causal connexion between successive types evolved 
from each other by the action of mechanical forces. More- 
over, our modern theory, while accounting for whatever is 
true in Aristotle's conception, serves, at the same time, to 
correct its exaggeration. The totality of existing species 
only imperfectly fill up the interval between the highest 
human life and the inorganic matter from which we assume 
it to be derived, because they are collaterally, and not 
lineally, related. Probably no one of them corresponds to 
any less developed stage of another, although some have pre- 
served, with more constancy than others, the features of a 
common parent. In diverging from a single stock (if we 
accept the monogenetic hypothesis,) they have become 
separated by considerable spaces, which the innumerable 
multitude of extinct species alone could fill up. 

Our preliminary survey of the subject is now completed. 
So far, we have been engaged in studying the mind of 
Aristotle rather than his system of philosophy. In the next 
chapter we shall attempt to give a more complete account of 
that system in its internal organisation not less than in its 
relations to modern science and modern thought. 





We have considered the Aristotelian philosophy in relation 
to the great concrete interests of life, morals, politics, litera- 
ture, and science. We have now to ask what it has to tell us 
about the deepest and gravest problems of any, the first prin- 
ciples of Being and Knowing, God and the soul, spirit and 
matter, metaphysics, psychology, and logic. We saw that 
very high claims were advanced on behalf of Aristotle in 
respect to his treatment of these topics ; and had we begun 
with them, we should only have been following the usual 
example of his expositors. We have, however, preferred 
keeping them to the last, that our readers might acquire some 
familiarity with the Aristotelian method, by seeing it applied 
to subjects where the results were immediately intelligible, 
and could be tested by an appeal to the experience of twenty- 
two centuries. We know that there are some who will demur 
to this proceeding, who will say that Aristotle the metaphy- 
sician stands on quite different ground from Aristotle the 
man of science, because in the one capacity he had, and in 
the other capacity he had not, sufficient facts to warrant 
an authoritative conclusion. They will say, with Prof. St. 
George Mivart, that in accumulating natural knowledge men's 
minds have become deadened to spiritual truth ; or with Mr. 
Edwin Wallace, that the questions opened by Aristotle have 
not yet been closed, and that we may witli advantage begin 


our study of them under his guidance. We, on the other 
hand, will endeavour to show that there is a unity of compo- 
sition running through the Stagirite's entire labours, that they 
everywhere manifest the same excellences and defects, which 
are those of an anatomising, critical, descriptive, classificatory 
genius ; that his most important conclusions, however great 
their historical interest, are without any positive or even 
educational value for us, being almost entirely based on false 
physical assumptions ; that his ontology and psychology are 
not what his admirers suppose them to be ; and that his 
logic, though meriting our gratitude, is far too confused and 
incomplete to throw any light on the questions raised by 
modern thinkers. 

Here, as elsewhere, we shall employ the genetic method 
of investigation. Aristotle's writings do not, indeed, present 
that gradual development of ideas which makes the Platonic 
Dialogues so interesting. Still they exhibit traces of such a 
development, and the most important among them seems to 
have been compiled from notes taken by the philosopher 
before his conclusions were definitely reasoned out, or worked 
up into a consistent whole. It is this fragmentary collection 
which, from having been placed by some unknown editor 
after the Physics, has received a name still associated with 
every kind of speculation that cannot be tested by a direct or 
indirect appeal to the evidence of external sense. 

Whether there exist any realities beyond what are revealed 
to us by this evidence, and what sensible evidence itself may 
be worth, were problems already actively canvassed in 
Aristotle's time. His Metaphysics at once takes us into the 
thick of the debate. The first question of that age was, What 
are the causes and principles of things .-* On one side stood 
the materialists — the old Ionian physicists and their living 
representatives. They said that all things came from water 
or air or fire, or from a mixture of the four elements, or from 
the interaction of opposites, such as wet and dry, hot and cold. 


Aristotle, following in the track of his master, Plato, blames 
them for ignoring the incorporeal substances, by which he 
does not mean what would now be understood — feelings or 
states of consciousness, or even the spiritual substratum of 
consciousness — but rather the general qualities or assemblages 
of qualities which remain constant amid the fluctuations of 
sensible phenomena ; considered, let us observe, not as sub- 
jective thoughts, but as objective realities. Another deficiency 
in the older physical theories is that they either ignore the 
efficient cause of motion altogether (like Thales), or assign 
causes not adequate to the purpose (like Empedocles) ; or 
when they hit on the true cause do not make the right use of 
it (like Anaxagoras). Lastly, they have omitted to study 
the final cause of a thing — the good for which it exists. 

The teleology of Aristotle requires a word of explanation, 
which may appropriately find its place in the present connex- 
ion. In speaking of a purpose in Nature, he does not mean 
that natural productions subserve an end lying outside them- 
selves ; as if, to use Goethe's illustration, the bark of cork- 
trees was intended to be made into stoppers for ginger-beer 
bottles ; but that in every perfect thing the parts are interde- 
pendent, and exist for the sake of the whole to which they 
belong. Nor does he, like so many theologians, both ancient 
and modern, argue from the evidence of design in Nature to 
the operation of a designing intelligence outside her. Not 
believing in any creation at all apart from works of art, he 
could not believe in a creative intelligence other than that of 
man. He does, indeed, constantly speak of Nature as if she 
were a personal providence, continually exerting herself for 
the good of her creatures. But, on looking a little closer, 
we find that the agency in question is completely unconscious, 
and may be identified with the constitution of each particular 
thing, or rather of the type to which it belongs. We have 
said that Aristotle's intellect was essentially descriptive, and 
wc liavc here another illustration of its chariicteristic qualit}'. 


The teleology which he parades with so much pomp adds 
nothing to our knowledge of causes, implies nothing that a 
positivist need not readily accept. It is a mere study of 
functions, an analysis of statical relations. Of course, if there 
were really any philosophers who said that the connexion 
between teeth and mastication was entirely accidental, the 
Aristotelian doctrine was a useful protest against such an 
absurdity ; but when we have established a fixed connexion 
between organ and function, we are bound to explain the 
association in some more satisfactory manner than by re- 
affirming it in general terms, which is all that Aristotle ever 
does. Again, whatever may be the relative justification of 
teleology as a study of functions in the living body, we have 
no grounds for interpreting the phenomena of inorganic 
nature on an analogous principle. Some Greek philosophers 
were acute enough to perceive the distinction. While admit- 
ting that plants and animals showed traces of design, they 
held that the heavenly bodies arose spontaneously from the 
movements of a vortex or some such cause ; ' just as certain 
religious savants of our own day reject the Darwinian theory 
while accepting the nebular hypothesis.^ But to Aristotle the 
unbroken regularity of the celestial movements, which to us 
is the best proof of their purely mechanical nature, was, on 
the contrary, a proof that they were produced and directed 
by an absolutely reasonable purpose ; much more so indeed 
than terrestrial organisms, marked as these are by occasional 
deviations and imperfections ; and he concludes that each of 
those movements must be directed towards the attainment of 
some correspondingly consummate end ; ^ while, again, in 
dealing with those precursors of Mr. Darwin, if such they can 
be called, who argued that the utility of an organ does not 
disprove its spontaneous origin, since only the creatures which, 
by a happy accident, came to possess it would survive — he 

' Fhys., II., viii., p. 19S, b, 24. - The late Father Secchi, for example. 

' P/iys., II., iv., p. 196, a, 2S ; De CoeL, II., xii. 


answers that the constant reproduction of such organs is 
enough to vindicate them from being the work of chance ; ' 
thus displaying his inabihty to distinguish between the two 
ideas of uniform causation and design. 

As a result of the foregoing criticism, Aristotle distin- 
guishes four different causes or principles by which all things 
are determined to be what they are — Matter, Form, Agent, 
and Purpose.^ If, for example, we take a saw, the matter is 
steel ; the form, a toothed blade ; the agent or cause of its 
assuming that shape, a smith ; the purpose, to divide wood 
or stone. When we have enumerated these four principles, 
we have told everything that can be known about a saw. But 
Aristotle could not keep the last three separate ; he gradually 
extended the definition of form until it absorbed, or became 
identified with, agent and purpose.^ It was what we should 
call the idea of function that facilitated the transition. If the 
very essence or nature of a saw implies use, activity, move- 
ment, how can we define it without telling its purpose .'* The 
toothed blade is only intelligible as a cutting, dividing instru- 
ment. Again, how came the saw into being .'' What shaped 
the steel into that particular form ? We have said that it 
was the smith. But surely that is too vague. The smith is 
a man, and may be able to exercise other trades as well. 
Suppose him to be a musician, did he make the saw in that 
capacity .-' No ; and here comes in a distinction which plays 
an immense part in Aristotle's metaphysics, whence it has 
passed into our every-day speech. He does not make the 
saw qua musician but qud smith. He can, however, in the 
exercise of his trade as smith make many other tools — knives, 
axes, and so forth. Nevertheless, had he only learned to 
make saws it would be enough. Therefore, he does not make 

• Phys., II., viii., p. 199, b, 14. 

^ Metaph., I., iii., sub in. ; Anal. Post., II., xi., sub in. Bekker. (cap. x., 
in the Tauchnitz ed.) ; Fhys. II., iii. ; De Gen. An., I., i. sub in. 

' Metafh., VIII., iv., p. 1044, b, i ; De Gen. An., I., i., p. 715, a, 6 ; ib. 
II., i., 732, a, 4; Phys., II., vii., p. 198, a, 24 ^i. 


the saw qua axe-maker, he makes it qua saw-maker. Nor, 
again, does he make it with his whole mind and body, but 
only with just those thoughts and movements required to give 
the steel that particular shape. Now, what are these thoughts 
but the idea of a saw present in his mind and passing through 
his eyes and hands, till it fixes itself on the steel ? The 
immaterial form of a saw creates the real saw which we use. 
Let us apply the preceding analogies to a natural object ; for 
example, a man. What is the Form, the definition of a man "i 
Not a being possessing a certain outward shape, for then a 
marble statue would be a man, which it is not ; nor yet 
a certain assemblage of organs, for then a corpse would be a 
man, which, according to Aristotle, criticising Democritus, it 
is not ; but a living, feeling, and reasoning being, the end of 
whose existence is to fulfil all the functions involved in this 
definition. So, also, the creative cause of a man is another 
man, who directly impresses the human form on the material 
supplied by the female organism. In the same way, every 
definite individual aggregate becomes what it is through the 
agency of another individual representing the same type in 
its perfect manifestation.^ 

The substantial forms of Aristotle, combining as they do 
the notion of a definition with that of a moving cause and a 
fulfilled purpose, are evidently derived from the Platonic 
Ideas ; a reflection which at once leads us to consider the 
relation in which he stands to the spiritualism of Plato and 
to the mathematical idealism of the Neo-Pythagoreans. He 
agrees with them in thinking that general conceptions are the 
sole object of knowledge — the sole enduring reality in a world 
of change. He differs from them in maintaining that such 
conceptions have no existence apart from the particulars in 
which they reside. It has been questioned whether Aristotle 
ever really understood his master's teaching on the subject. 
Among recent critics, M. Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire asserts, 

Phys., II., iii., p. 195, 'i> V- ^- '■> -^letaph., IX., viii., p. 1049, b 24. 


with considerable vehemence, that he did not. It is certain 
that in some respects Aristotle is not just to the Platonic 
theory, that he exaggerates its absurdities, ignores its develop- 
ments, and occasionally brings charges against it which might 
be retorted with at least equal effect against his own philo- 
sophy. But on the most important point of all, whether 
Plato did or did not ascribe a separate existence to his Ideas, 
we could hardly believe a disciple of twenty years' standing ' 
to be mistaken, even if the master had not left on record a 
decisive testimony to the affirmative side in his Parmenides, 
and one scarcely less decisive in his Timaeiis} And so far as 
the controversy reduces itself to this particular issue, Aristotle 
is entirely right. His most powerful arguments are not, 
indeed, original, having been anticipated by Plato himself; 
but as they were left unanswered he had a perfect right to 
repeat them, and his dialectical skill was great enough to 
make him independent of their support. The extreme 
minuteness of his criticism is wearisome to us, who can hardly 
conceive how another opinion could ever have been held. 
Yet such was the fascination exercised by Plato's idealism, 
that not only was it upheld with considerable acrimony by 
his immediate followers,'' but under one form or another it 
has been revived over and over again, in the long period 
which has elapsed since its first promulgation, and on every 
one of these occasions the arguments of Aristotle have been 
raised up again to meet it, each time with triumphant success. 
Ockham's razor, Entia non sunt sine necessitate DuiltipHcanda, 
is borrowed from the Metaphysics ; Locke's principal objection 
to innate ideas closely resembles the sarcastic observation in 

' That is, according to the traditional view, which, however, will have to be 
considerably modified if we accept the conclusions emtiodied in Teichmiilier's 
Literarische Fehden. 

'^ Parmeti., 130, A ((. ; Tim., 28, A. 

' As we may infer from a passage in Xhs Phr/oru- (II., ii., p. 1379, a, 35), 
■where partisans of the Idea are said to be exasperated by any slight thrown oa 
their favourite doctrine. 


the last chapter of the Posterior Analytics, that, according to 
Plato's theory, we must have some very wonderful knowledge 
of which we are not conscious.^ And the weapons with which 
Trendelenburg and others have waged war on Hegel are 
avowedly drawn from the Aristotelian arsenal.'^ 

In his criticism on the ideal theory, Aristotle argues that 
it is unproved ; that the consequences to which it leads 
would be rejected by the idealists themselves ; that it involves 
a needless addition to the sum of existence ; that it neither 
explains the origin of things nor helps us to understand them, 
while taking away from them their substantial reality ; that 
the Ideas are merely sensible objects hypostasised, like the 
anthropomorphic divinities of primitive men ; that, to speak 
of them as patterns, in whose likeness the world was created, 
is a mere idle metaphor ; that, even assuming the existence 
of such patterns, each individual must be made in the like- 
ness, not of one, but of many ideas — a human being, for 
instance, must be modelled after the ideal biped and the 
ideal animal, as well as after the ideal man ; while many of 
the ideas themselves, although all are supposed to exist 
absolutely, must be dependent on other and simpler types ; 
finally, that, assuming an idea for every abstract relation, 
there must be ideas to represent the relation between every 
sensible object and its prototype, others for the new relations 
thus introduced, and so on to infinity. 

Aristotle's objections to the Neo- Pythagorean theory of 
ideal numbers need not delay us here. They are partly a 
repetition of those brought against the Platonic doctrine in its 

' Repeated in the Metaphysics, I., ix., p. 993, a, i. 

* This may seem inconsistent with our former assertion, that Hegel holds in 
German philosophy a place analogous to that held by Aristotle in Greek philo- 
sophy. Such analogies, however, are always more or less incomplete ; and, so 
far as he attributes a self-moving power to ideas, Hegel is a Platonist rather than 
an Aristotelian. Similarly, as an evolutionist, Mr. Herbert Spencer stands 
much nearer to early Greek thought than to Aristotle, whom, in other respects, he 
so much resembles. 



original form, partly derived from the impossibility of identi- 
fying qualitative with quantitative differences,' 

Such arguments manifestly tell not only against Platonism, 
but against every kind of transcendental realism, from the 
natural theology of Paley to the dogmatic agnosticism of 
Mr. Herbert Spencer. A modern Aristotle might say that 
the hypothesis of a creative first cause, personal or otherwise, 
logically involves the assumption of as many original specific 
energies as there are qualities to be accounted for, and thus 
gives us the unnecessary trouble of counting everything twice 
over ; that every difficulty and contradiction from which the 
transcendental assumption is intended to free us, must, on 
analysis, reappear in the assumption itself — for example, the 
God who is to deliver us from evil must be himself conceived 
as the creator of evil ; that the infinite and absolute can 
neither cause, nor be apprehended by, the finite and relative ; 
that to separate from Nature all the forces required for its 
perpetuation, and relegate them to a sphere apart, is a false 
antithesis and a sterile abstraction ; lastly, that causation, 
whether efficient or final, once begun, cannot stop ; that if 
this world is not self-existing, nothing is ; that the mutual 
adaptation of thoughts in a designing intelligence requires to 
be accounted for just like any other adaptation ; that if the 
relative involves the absolute, so also does the relation be- 
tween the two involve another absolute, and so on to infinity. 

These are difficulties which will continue to perplex us 
until every shred of the old metaphysics has been thrown off. 
To that task Aristotle was not equal. He was profoundly 
influenced by the very theory against which he contended ; 
and, at the risk of being paradoxical, we may even say that it 
assumed a greater importance in his system than had ever 
been attributed to it by Plato himself. To prove this, we 
must resume the thread of our exposition, and follow the 

' Zeller, Ph. d. Gr., II., b, 297 f. 


Stagirite still further in his analysis of the fundamental 
reality with which the highest philosophy is concerned. 


Ever since the age of Parmenides and Heracleitus, Greek 
thought had been haunted by a pervading dualism which 
each system had in turn attempted to reconcile, with no 
better result than its reproduction under altered names. 
And speculation had latterly become still further perplexed 
by the question whether the antithetical couples supposed to 
divide all Nature between them could or could not be reduced 
to so many aspects of a single opposition. In the last 
chapter but one we showed that there were four such com- 
peting pairs — Being and Not-Being, the One and the Many, 
the Same and the Other, Rest and Motion. Plato employed 
his very subtlest dialectic in tracing out their connexions, 
readjusting their relationships, and diminishing the total 
number of terms which they involved. In what was probably 
his last great speculative effort, the Timacus, he seems to 
have selected Sameness and Difference as the couple best 
adapted to bear the heaviest strain of thought. There is 
some reason for believing that in his spoken lectures he 
followed the Pythagorean system more closely, giving the 
preference to the One and the Many ; or he may have 
employed the two expressions indifferently. The former 
would sooner commend itself to a dialectician, the latter to a 
mathematician. Aristotle was both, but he was before all 
things a naturalist. As such, the antithesis of Being and 
Not-Being, to which Plato attached little or no value, suited 
him best. Accordingly, he proceeds to work it out with a 
clearness before unknown in Greek philosophy. The first 
and surest of all principles, he declares, is, that a thing cannot 
both be and not be, in the same sense of the words, and 
furthermore that it must either be or not be. Subsequent 


logicians prefixed to these axioms another, declaring that 
whatever is is. The three together are known as the laws of 
Identity, Contradiction, and Excluded Middle. By all, except 
Hegelians, they are recognised as the highest laws of thought ; 
and even Hegel was indebted to them, through Fichte, for the 
ground-plan of his entire system.* 

The whole meaning and value of such excessively abstract 
propositions must lie in their application to the problems 
which they are employed to solve. Aristotle made at once 
too much and too little of his. Too much — for he employed 
them to refute doctrines not really involving any logical in- 
consistency — the theory of Heracleitus, that everything is in 
motion ; the theory of Anaxagoras, that everything was 
originally confused together ; the theory of Protagoras, that 
man is the measure of all things. Too little — for he admitted 
a sphere of possibilities where logical definition did not 
apply, and where subjects simultaneously possessed the 
capacity of taking on one or other of two contradictory 

Nor is this all. After sharply distinguishing what is 
from what is not, and refusing to admit any intermediary 
between them, Aristotle proceeds to discover such an inter- 
mediary in the shape of what he calls Accidental Predication.* 
An accident is an attribute not necessarily or usually inhering 
in its subject — in other words, a co-existence not dependent 
on causation. Aristotle could never distinguisii between the 
two notions of cause and kind, nor yet between interferences 
with the action of some particular cause and exceptions to 
the law of causation in general ; and so he could not frame 
an intelligible theory of chance. Some propositions, he tells 
us, are necessarily true, others are only generally true ; and' 
it is the exceptions to the latter which constitute accident ; as, 
for instance, when a cold day happens to come in the middle 

' Metaph. IV., iii. and viii. - Ibid. VI., ii., p. 1026, b, 21. 


of summer. So also a man is necessarily an animal, but 
only exceptionally white. Such distinctions are not unin- 
teresting, for they prove with what difficulties the idea of 
invariable sequence had to contend before even the highest 
intellects could grasp it. There was a constant liability to 
confound the order of succession with the order of co-exist- 
ence, the order of our sensations with the order of objective 
existence, and the subjection of human actions to any fixed 
order, with the impossibility of deliberation and choice. The 
earlier Greek thinkers had proclaimed that all things existed 
by necessity ; but with their purely geometrical or historical 
point of view, they entirely ignored the more complex ques- 
tions raised by theories about classification, logical attribution, 
and moral responsibility. And the modifications introduced 
by Epicurus, into the old physics, show us how unanswer- 
able Aristotle's reasonings seemed to some of his ablest 

Absolute being is next distinguished from truth, which, 
we are told, has no objective existence ' — a remarkable 
declaration, which throws much light on other parts of the 
Aristotelian system, and to which we shall subsequently 

After explaining at considerable length what Being is not, 
Aristotle now proceeds to ascertain what it is. He tells us 
that just as all number qnd number must be either odd or 
even, so all Being qua Being must have certain universal 
attributes. These he sets himself to discover. When 
Descartes long afterwards entered on a somewhat similar 
inquiry, he fell back on the facts of his own individual con- 
sciousness. Aristotle, on the contrary, appeals to the common 
consciousness of mankind as embodied in ordinary language. 
In how many senses do we say that a thing is } The first 
answer is contained in his famous Ten Categories.' These 

' Metaph., VI., iv., p. 1027, b, 29. * Ibid., VI., iv. 

• IHd., VI., \\.,sub in. ; VII., i., %ub in. ; Topic, I., ix. 


are not what some have supposed them to be, siimnia genera 
of existence, but siimina genei'a of predication. In other 
words, they are not a classification of things, but of the in- 
formation which it is possible to receive about a single 
thing, more especially about the richest and most concrete 
thing known to us — a human being. If we want to find out 
all about a thing we ask. What is it ? Of what sort ? How 
large .'' To what does it belong } Where and when can we 
find it .'* What does it do .'' What happens to it } And if 
the object of our investigations be a living thing, we may 
add. What are its habits and dispositions .'' The question 
has been raised, how Aristotle came to think of these ten 
particular categories, and a wonderful amount of rubbish has 
been written on the subject, while apparently no scholar 
could see what was staring him in the face all the time, 
that Aristotle got them by collecting all the simple forms 
of interrogation supplied by the Greek language,' and writing 
out their most general expressions. 

Having obtained his categories, Aristotle proceeds to 
mark off the first from the other nine. The subject or 
substance named in answer to the question. What is it } can 
exist without having any quality, size, and so forth predicated 
of it ; but they cannot exist without it. Logically, they 
cannot be defined without telling what they are ; really they 
cannot be conceived without something not themselves in 

' These are ri, Tfoi6v, ■iroc6v, irov, irore, and ttcSs. Tt is associated with irpds 
in the question irphs tI, which has no simple English equivalent. Apparently it 
was suggested to Aristotle by ■iro(r6u, how much? in connexion with which it 
means, in relation to what standard ? If we were told that a thing was double, 
we should ask, double what ? Again, the Greeks had a simply compound ques- 
tion, Ti iraddcu, meaning, what was the matter with him ? or, what made him do 
it? From this Aristotle extracted irdax^"'> ^ wider notion than our passion, 
meaning whatever is done or happens to anything ; which again would suggest 
iroieTv, what it does, Finally, ttws, taken alone, is too vague a question for any 
answer, but must be taken in its simplest compounds ira>s! SiaKelnevov and ttws 
ex<"') which give the two rarely-occurring categories ex^'" ^"^ neladai, for which 
it is on one occasion substituted {Soph. El., xxii. , p. 178, b, 39). Am ti does not 
figure among the categories, because it is reserved for the special analysis of outria. 


which they inhere. They are Hke the tail of a kite, giving 
greater conspicuousness and buoyancy to the body, but 
entirely dependent on it for support. What our philosopher 
fails to perceive is, that the dependence is reciprocal, that 
substance can no more be conceived without attributes than 
attributes without substance ; or rather that substance, like 
all other categories, can be resolved into Relation.^ 

Meanwhile, he had a logical machine ready to hand, 
which could be used with terrible effect against the Platonic 
Ideas. Any of these — and there were a great number — that 
could be brought under one of the last nine categories were 
at once deprived of all claim to independent existence. 
Take Equality, for instance. It cannot be discovered outside 
quantity, and quantity is always predicated of a substance. 
And the same is true of number, to the utter destruction of 
the Neo-Pythagorean theory which gave it a separate exist- 
ence. Moreover, the categories served not only to generalise 
and combine, but also to specificate and divide. The idea of 
motion occurs in three of them ; in quantity, where it means 
increase or diminution ; in quality, where it means alteration, 
as from hot to cold, or vice versa ; and in place, implying 
transport from one point to another. The Idea of Good, 
which stands at the very summit of Plato's system, may be 
traced through all ten categories."'^ Thus, the supposed unity 
and simplicity of such conceptions was shown to be an 
illusion. Platonism was, in truth, so inconsistent with the 
notions embodied in common language, that it could not but 
be condemned by a logic based on those notions. 

Aristotle next takes the Idea of Substance and subjects it 
to a fresh analysis.' Of all things none seem to possess so 
evident an existence as the bodies about us — plants and 
animals, the four elements, and the stars. But each of these 

' As Grote has shown in his chapter on the Categories. 

2 Eth. Nic, I., iv., p. 1096, a, 24, where six are enumerated. 

^ Metaplt., VII. passi/H. 


has already been shown to consist of Form and Matter. A 
statue, for instance, is a lump of bronze shaped into the 
figure of a man. Of these two constituents, Matter seems at 
first sight to possess the greater reahty. The same Hne of 
thought which led Aristotle to place substance before the 
other categories now threatens to drive him back into 
materialism. This he dreaded, not on sentimental or 
religious grounds, but because he conceived it to be the 
negation of knowledge. He first shows that Matter cannot 
be the real substance to which individuals owe their deter- 
minate existence, since it is merely the unknown residuum 
left behind when every predicate, common to them with 
others, has been stripped off. Substance, then, must be 
either Form alone or Form combined with Matter. Form, 
in its completest sense, is equivalent to the essential definition 
of a thing — the collection of attributes together constituting 
its essence or conception. To know the definition is to know 
the thing defined. The way to define is to begin with the 
most general notion, and proceed by adding one specific 
difference after another, until we reach the most particular 
and concrete expression. The union of this last with a 
certain portion of Matter gives us the individual Socrates or 
Callias. There are no real entities (as the Platonists pretend) 
corresponding to the successive stages of generalisation, 
biped, animal, and so forth, any more than there are self- 
existing quantities, qualities, and relations. Thus the problem 
has been driven into narrower and narrower limits, until at 
last we are left with the infinicB species and the individuals 
contained under them. It remains to discover in what 
relation these stand to one another. The answer is unsatis- 
factory. We are told that there is no definition of individuals, 
and also that the definition is identical with the individual.' 
Such, indeed, is the conclusion necessarily resulting from 
Aristotle's repeated declarations that all knowledge is of 

' Meiaph,^ VII., vi., p. 1031, b, 18 ff. 


definitions, that all knowledge is of something really existing, 
and that nothing really exists but individual things. Never- 
theless, against these we have to set equally strong declara- 
tions to the effect that knowledge is of something general, 
not of the perishing individuals which may pass out of 
existence at any moment. The truth is, that we are here, as 
Zeller has shown,' in presence of an insoluble contradiction, 
and we must try to explain, not how Aristotle reconciled 
it with itself, for that was impossible, but how he reconciled 
himself to it. 

His analysis of individuality was the first step in this 
direction. We have seen that he treats definition as a 
process of gradual specification, beginning with the most 
general notions, and working down by successive difierentiations 
to the most particular. Now, the completed conception is 
itself the integration of all these differences, the bond of union 
holding them together. Turning to an antithetical order of 
ideas, to the material substance of which bodies are composed, 
and its various transformations, we find him working out 
the same vein of thought. According to the Aristotelian 
chemistry, an ultimate indeterminate unknowable something 
clothes itself with one or other of the opposing attributes, dry 
and moist, hot and cold ; and when two of these are combined, 
manifests itself to our senses as one of the four elements. 
The elements combine in a particular manner to form 
homogeneous animal tissues, and these again are united into 
heterogeneous organs, which together constitute the living 
body. Here, then, we have two analogous series of specifica- 
tions — one conceptual and leading down from the abstract to 
the concrete, the other physical, and leading up from the 
vague, the simple, and the homogeneous, to the definite, the 
complex, and the heterogeneous. Aristotle embraces both 
processes under a single comprehensive generalisation. He 
describes each of them as the continuous conversion of a 

' Zeller, Phil, d, Gr,, II., b, 309. 


possibility into an actuality. For the sake of greater clear- 
ness, let us take the liberty of substituting modern scientific 
terms for his cumbrous and obsolete classifications. We 
shall then say that the general notion, living thing, contains 
under it the two less general notions — plant and animal. If we 
only know of any given object that it has life, there is implied 
the possibility of its being either the one or the other, but not 
both together. On determining it to be (say) an animal, we 
actualise one of the possibilities. But the actualisation is 
only relative, and immediately becomes the possibility of 
being either a vertebrate or an invertebrate animal. The 
actuality vertebrate becomes the possibility of viviparous 
or oviparous, and so on through successive difterentiations 
until we come (say) to a man. Now let us begin at the 
material end. Here are a mass of molecules, which, in their 
actual state are only carbon, nitrogen, and so forth. But 
they are potential starch, gluten, water, or any other article 
of food that might be named ; for under favourable conditions 
they will combine to form it. Once actualised as such, they 
are possible blood-cells ; these are possible tissues ; these, 
again, possible organs, and lastly we come to the consensus 
of vital functions, which is a man. What the raw material is 
to the finished product, that are the parts to the entire 
organism, the elements to the compound, the genus to the 
species, and such in its very widest sense is potency to 
realisation, Svva/xis to svreXs'x^eca, throughout the universe of 
growth and decay.^ 

It will be observed that, so far, this famous theory does 
not add one single jot to our knowledge. Under the guise of 
an explanation, it is a description of the very facts needing 
to be explained. We did not want an Aristotle to tell us 
that before a thing exists it must be possible. We want to 
know how it is possible, what are the real conditions of its 
existence, and why they combine at a particular moment to 

' For the general theory of Actuality and Possibility, see MetapJi., VIII. 


produce it. The Atomists showed in what direction the 
solution should be sought, and all subsequent progress has 
been due to a development of their method. Future ages 
will perhaps consider our own continued distinction between 
force and motion as a survival of the Peripatetic philosophy. 
Just as sensible aggregates of matter arise not out of 
potential matter, but out of matter in an extremely fine state 
of diffusion, so also sensible motion will be universally traced 
back, not to potential motion, which is all that force means, 
but to molecular or ethereal vibrations, like those known to 
constitute heat and light. 

We have said, in comparing him with his predecessors, 
that the Stagirite unrolled Greek thought from a solid into a 
continuous surface. We have now to add that he gave his 
surface the false appearance of a solid by the use of shadows, 
and of aerial perspective. In other words, he made the 
indication of his own ignorance and confusion do duty for 
depth and distance. For to say that a thing is developed out 
of its possibility, merely means that it is developed out of 
something, the nature of which we do not know. And to 
speak about such possibilities as imperfect existences, or 
matter, or whatever else Aristotle may be pleased to call them, 
is simply constructing the universe, not out of our ideas, but 
out of our absolute want of ideas. 

We have seen how, for the antithesis between Form and 
Matter, was substituted the wider antithesis between Actuality 
and Possibility. Even in this latter the opposition is more 
apparent than real. A permanent possibility is only intelli- 
gible through the idea of its realisation, and sooner or later is 
certain to be realised. Aristotle still further bridges over the 
interval between them by a new conception — that of motion. 
Motion, he tells us, is the process of realisation, the transform- 
ation of power into act. Nearly the whole of his Physics is 
occupied with an enquiry into its nature and origin. As first 
conceived, it is equivalent to what we call change rather than 


to mechanical movement. The table of categories supplies 
an exhaustive enumeration of its varieties. These are, as we 
have already mentioned, alteration of quality or transforma- 
tion, increase or decrease of quantity, equivalent to growth 
and decay, and transport from place to place. Sometimes a 
fourth variety is added, derived from the first category, 
substance. Recalls it generation and destruction, the coming 
into existence or passing out of it again. A careful analysis 
shows that motion in space is the primordial change on which 
all others depend for their accomplishment. To account for 
it is the most vitally important problem in philosophy. 


Before entering on the chain of reasoning which led 
Aristotle to postulate the existence of a personal First Cause, 
we must explain the difference between his scientific stand- 
point, and that which is now accepted by all educated minds. 
To him the eternity not only of Matter, but also of what 
he called Form, — that is to say, the collection of attributes 
giving definiteness to natural aggregates, more especially 
those known as organic species — was an axiomatic certainty. 
Every type, capable of self-propagation, that could exist at 
all, had existed, and would continue to exist for ever. For 
this, no explanation beyond the generative power of Nature 
was required. But when he had to account for the machinery 
by which the perpetual alternation of birth and death below, 
and the changeless revolutions of the celestial spheres above 
the moon were preserved, difficulties arose. He had reduced 
every other change to transport through space ; and with 
regard to this his conceptions were entirely mistaken. He 
believed that moving matter tended to stop unless it was 
sustained by some external force ; and whatever their advan- 
tages over him in other respects, we cannot say that the 
Atomists were in a position to correct him here : for their 


theory, that every particle of matter gravitated downward 
through infinite space, was quite incompatible with the latest 
astronomical discoveries. Aristotle triumphantly showed that 
the tendency of heavy bodies was not to move indefinitely 
downwards in parallel lines, but to move in converging lines 
to the centre of the earth, which he, in common with most 
Greek astronomers, supposed to be also the centre of the 
universe ; and seeing light bodies move up, he credited them 
with an equal and opposite tendency to the circumference of 
the universe, which, like Parmenides and Plato, he believed to 
be of finite extent. Thus each kind of matter has its appro- 
priate place, motion to which ends in rest, while motion away 
from it, being constrained, cannot last. Accordingly, the 
constant periodicity of terrestrial phenomena necessitates as 
constant a transformation of dry and wet, and of hot and cold 
bodies into one another. This is explained with perfect 
accuracy by the diurnal and annual revolutions of the sun. 
Here, however, we are introduced to a new kind of motion, 
which, instead of being rectilinear and finite, is circular and 
eternal. To account for it, Aristotle assumes a fifth element 
entirely dificrent in character from the four terrestrial elements. 
Unlike them, it is absolutely simple, and has a correspondingly 
simple mode of motion, which, as our philosopher erroneously 
supposes, can be no other than circular rotation. 

Out of this eternal unchanging divine substance, which he 
calls aether, are formed the heavenly bodies and the trans- 
parent spheres containing them. But there is something 
beyond it of an even higher and purer nature. Aristotle 
proves, with great subtlety, from his fundamental assumptions, 
that the movement of an extended substance cannot be self- 
caused. He also proves that motion must be absolutely con- 
tinuous and without a beginning. We have, therefore, no 
choice but to accept the existence of an unextended, im- 
material, eternal, and infinite Power on which the whole 
cosmos depends. 


So much only is established in the Physics. Further par- 
ticulars are given in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics. 
There we learn that, all movement being from possibility to 
actuality, the source of movement must be a completely 
realised actuality — pure form without any admixture of matter. 
But the highest form known to us in the ascending scale of 
organic life is the human soul, and the highest function of 
soul is reason. Reason then must be that which moves with- 
out being moved itself, drawing all things upwards and 
onwards by the love which its perfection inspires. The eternal, 
infinite, absolute actuality existing beyond the outermost 
starry sphere is God. Aristotle describes God as the thought 
which thinks itself and finds in the simple act of self-con- 
sciousness an everlasting happiness, wonderful if it always 
equals the best moments of our mortal life, more wonderful 
still if it surpasses them. There is only one supreme God, for 
plurality is due to an admixture of matter, and He is pure 
form. The rule of many is not good, as Homer says. Let 
there be one Lord. 

Such are the closing words of what was possibly Aristotle's 
last work, the clear confession of his monotheistic creed. A 
monotheistic creed, we have said, but one so unlike all other 
religions, that its nature has been continually misunderstood. 
While some have found in it a theology like that of the Jews 
or of Plato or of modern Europe, others have resolved it into 
a vague pantheism. Among the latter we are surprised to 
find Sir A. Grant, a writer to whom the Aristotelian texts 
must be perfectly familiar both in spirit and in letter. Yet 
nothing can possibly be more clear and emphatic than the 
declarations they contain. Pantheism identifies God with the 
world ; Aristotle separates them as pure form from form more 
or less alloyed with matter. Pantheism denies personality to 
God ; Aristotle gives him unity, spirituality, self-consciousness, 
and happiness. If these qualities do not collectively involve 
personality, we should like to know what does. Need we 


remind the accomplished editor of the Nico7nachean Ethics 
how great a place is given in that work to human self- 
consciousness, to waking active thought as distinguished from 
mere slumbering faculties or unrealised possibilities of action ? 
And what Aristotle regarded as essential to human perfection, 
he would regard as still more essential to divine perfection. 
Finally, the God of pantheism is a general idea ; the God of 
Aristotle is an individual. Sir A. Grant says that he (or it) 
is the idea of Good.' We doubt very much whether there is 
a single passage in the Metaphysics to sanction such an expres- 
sion. Did it occur, however, that would be no warrant for 
approximating the Aristotelian to the Platonic theology, in 
presence of such a distinct declaration as that the First Mover is 
both conceptually and numerically one,^ coming after repeated 
repudiations of the Platonic attempt to isolate ideas from the 
particulars in which they are immersed, Then Sir A. Grant 
goes on to speak of the desire felt by Nature for God as being 
itself God,^ and therefore involving a belief in pantheism. 
Such a notion is not generally called pantheism, but hylozoism, 
the attribution of life to matter. We have no desire, however, 
to quarrel about words. The philosopher who believes in the 
existence of a vague consciousness, a spiritual effort towards 
something higher diffused through nature, may, if you will, be 
called a pantheist, but not unless this be the only divinity he 
recognises. The term is altogether misleading when applied 
to one who also proclaims the existence of something in his 
opinion far higher, better and more real — a living God, who 
transcends Nature, and is independent of her, although she is 
not independent of him. 

We must also observe that the parallel drawn by Sir A. 
Grant between the theology of Aristotle and that of John 
Stuart Mill is singularly unfortunate. It is in the first place 
incorrect to say that Mill represented God as benevolent but 

' Grant's Aristotle^ p. 176. ^ Metaph., XII., viii., p. IC74, a, 36. 

' Grant's Aristotle, p. 176. 


not omnipotent. He only suggested the idea as less incon- 
sistent with facts than other forms of theism.' In the next 
place, Aristotle's God was almost exactly the reverse of this. 
He possesses infinite power, but no benevolence at all. He 
has nothing to do with the internal arrangements of the world, 
either as creator or as providence. He is, in fact, an egoist 
of the most transcendent kind, who does nothing but think 
about himself and his own perfections. Nothing could be 
more characteristic of the unpractical Aristotelian philosophy ; 
nothing more repugnant to the eager English reformer, the 
pupil of Bentham and of Plato. And, thirdly. Sir A. Grant 
takes what is not the God of Aristotle's system at all, but a 
mere abstraction, the immanent reason of Nature, the Form 
which can never quite conquer Matter, and places it on the 
same line with a God who, however hypothetical, is nothing 
if not a person distinct from the world ; while, as if to bewilder 
the unfortunate * English reader ' still further, he adds, in the 
very next sentence, that ' the great defect in Aristotle's con- 
ception of God is ' the denial ' that God can be a moral 
Being.' * 

The words last quoted, which in a Christian sense are true 
enough, lead us over to the contrasting view of Aristotle's 
theology, to the false theory of it held by critics like Prof St. 
George Mivart. The Stagirite agrees with Catholic theism in 
accepting a personal God, and he agrees with the First Article 
of the English Church, though not with the Pentateuch, in 
saying that God is without parts or passions ; but there his 
agreement ceases. Excluding such a thing as divine interfer- 
ence with nature, his theology of course excludes the possibility 
of revelation, inspiration, miracles, and grace. Nor is this a 
mere omission ; it is a necessity of the system. If there can 

> 'The rational attitude of a thinking mind towards the supernatural, whether 
in natural or revealed religion, is that of scepticism, as distinguished from belief 
on the one hawd and atheism on the other.'— Mill's Essays on Religion, p. 242. 

3 {:,\9,x\\\ Aristoth, y. 177. 


be no existence without time, no time without motion, no 
motion without unrealised desire, no desire without an ideal, 
no ideal but eternally self-thinking thought — then it logically 
follows that God, in the sense of such a thought, must not 
interest himself in the affairs of men. Again, Aristotelianism 
equally excludes the arguments by which modern theologians 
have sought to prove the existence of God. Here also the 
system is true to its contemporaneous, statical, superficial cha- 
racter. The First Mover is not separated from us by a chain 
of causes extending through past ages, but by an intervening 
breadth of space and the wheels within wheels of a cosmic 
machine. Aristotle had no difficulty in conceiving what some 
have since declared to be inconceivable, a series of antecedents 
without any beginning in time ; it was rather the beginning of 
such a series that he could not make intelligible to himself. 
Nor, as we have seen, did he think that the adaptation in 
living organisms of each part to everj^ other required an 
external explanation. Far less did it occur to him that the 
production of impressions on our senses was due to the 
agency of a supernatural power. It is absolutely certain that 
he would have rejected the Cartesian argument, according to 
which a perfect being must exist if it be only conceivable — 
existence being necessarily involved in the idea of perfection.' 
Finally, not recognising such a faculty as conscience, he 
would not have admitted it to be the voice of God speaking 
in the soul. 

On the other hand, Aristotle's own theistic arguments 
cannot stand for a moment in the face of modern science. 
We know by the law of inertia that it is not the continuance, 
but the arrest or the beginning of motion which requires to 
be accounted for. We know by the Copernican system that 
there is no solid sidereal sphere governing the revolutions of 
all Nature. And we know by the Newtonian physics that 

' - b 5' HvoLi ovK oiiaia ovZev'f ov yap yft'os tu uv. — An. Post., II., vii., j>. 92, 
b, 13. 

A A 


gravitation is not dependent on fixed points in space for its 
operation. The Philosophy of the Philosopher Aristotle is as 
inconsistent with the demonstrations of modern astronomy as 
it is with the faith of mediaeval Catholicism. 

It remains to be seen whether the system which we are 
examining is consistent with itself. It is not. The Prime 
Mover, being unextended, cannot be located outside the side- 
real sphere ; nor can he be brought into immediate contact 
with it more than with any other part of the cosmos. If the 
aether has a motion proper to itself, then no spiritual agency 
is required to keep it in perpetual rotation. If the crystalline 
spheres fit accurately together, as they must, to avoid leaving 
a vacuum anywhere, there can be no friction, no production 
of heat, and consequently no effect produced on the sublunary 
sphere. Finally, no rotatory or other movement can, taken 
alone, have any conceivable connexion with the realisa- 
tion of a possibility, in the sense of progress from a lower to 
a higher state of being. It is merely the perpetual exchange 
of one indifferent position for another. 

We have now to consider what were the speculative 
motives that led Aristotle to overlook these contradictions, 
and to find rest in a theory even less satisfactory than the 
earlier systems which he is always attacking with relentless 
animosity. The first motive, we believe, was the train of 
reasoning, already laid before the reader, by which universal 
essences,, the objects of knowledge, gradually came to be 
identified with particular objects, the sole existing realities. 
For the arguments against such an identification, as put 
forward by our philosopher himself, still remained unan- 
swered. The individuals comprising a species were still too 
transient for certainty and too numerous for comprehension. 
But when for the antithesis between Form and Matter was 
substituted the antithesis between Actuality and Possibility, 
two modes of evasion presented themselves. The first was to 
distinguish between actual knowledge and potential knowledge. 


The former corresponded to existing particulars, the latter to 
general ideas.' This, however, besides breaking up the unity 
of knowledge, was inconsistent with the whole tenor of 
Aristotle's previous teaching. What can be more actual than 
demonstration, and how can there be any demonstration of 
transient particulars .-• The other niode of reconciliation was 
perhaps suggested by the need of an external cause to raise 
Possibility into Actuality. Such a cause might be conceived 
with all the advantages and without the drawbacks of a 
Platonic Idea. It would be at once the moving agent and 
the model of perfection ; it could reconcile the general and 
the particular by the simple fact of being eternal in time, 
comprehensive in space, and unique in kind. Aristotle found 
such a cause, or rather a whole series of such causes, in the 
celestial spheres. In his system, these bear just the same 
relation to terrestrial phenomena that Plato's Ideas bear to 
the world of sense. They are, in fact, the Ideas made sen- 
sible and superficial, placed alongside of, instead of beneath or 
behind, the transient particulars which they irradiate and 

The analogy may be carried even farther. If Plato 
regarded the things of sense as not merely a veil, but an 
imperfect imitation of the only true realities ; so also did 
Aristotle represent the sublunary elements as copying the 
disposition and activities of the ethereal spheres. They too 
have their concentric arrangements — first fire, then air, then 
water, and lastly earth in the centre; while their perpetual 
transformation into one another presents an image in time of 
the spatial rotation which those sublime beings perform. And 
although we think that Sir A. Grant is quite mistaken in 
identifying Aristotle's Supreme Mind with the Idea of Good, 
there can be no doubt of its having been suggested by that 
Idea. It is, in fact, the translation of Plato's abstraction into 
concrete reality, and the completion of a process which Plato 
' Miiaph., XIII., X. 

A A 2 


had himself begun. From another point of view we may say 
that both master and disciple were working, each in his own 
way, at the solution of a problem which entirely dominates 
Greek philosophy from Empedocles on — the reconcilia- 
tion of Parmenides and Heracleitus, Being and Becoming, 
the eternal and the changeful, the one and the many. Aris- 
totle adopts the superficial, external method of placing the 
two principles side by side in space ; and for a long time the 
world accepted his solution for the same reason that had 
commended it to his own acceptance, its apparent agreement 
with popular tradition and with the facts of experience. It 
must be confessed, however, that here also he was following 
the lines laid down by Plato. The Tiniaais and the Lazvs 
are marked by a similar tendency to substitute astronomy 
for dialectics, to study the celestial movements with religious 
veneration, to rebuild on a scientific basis that ancient star- 
worship which, even among the Greeks, enjoyed a much 
higher authority and prestige than the humanised mythology 
of the poets. But for Christianity this star-worship would 
probably have become the official faith of the Roman world. 
As it is, Dante's great poem presents us with a singular 
compromise between the two creeds. The crystalline 
spheres are retained, only they have become the abode of 
glorified spirits instead of being the embodiment of eternal 
gods. We often hear it said that the Copernican system was 
rejected as offensive to human pride, because it removed the 
earth from the centre of the universe. This is a profound 
mistake. Its offence was to degrade the heavenly bodies by 
assimilating them to the earth.' Among several planets, all 
revolving round the sun, there could not be any marked 
qualitative difference. In the theological sense there was no 
longer any heaven ; and with the disappearance of the solid 

' Noti pensar oltre lei [la terra] essere uii corpo senza alma e vita et anche 
feccia tra le sustanze corporali.' Giordano Bruno, Cena de le Ceneri, p. 130 
(Dperr, ed. Wagner). ' Non dovete stimar. . . che il coipo terreno sia vile e piii 
degli altri ignobile.'— Z)^ V Ivfinito Unhcrso c Moiidi, p. 54 {ib.). 


sidereal sphere there was no longer any necessity for a Prime 

There is, perhaps, no passage in Aristotle's writings— there 
is certainly none in his scientific writings — more eloquent 
than that which describes the glory of his imaginary heavens. 
The following translation may give some faint idea of its 
solemnity and splendour: — 

We believe, then, that the whole heaven is one and everlasting, 
without beginning or end through ail eternity, but holding infinite 
time within its orb ; not, as some say, created or capable of being 
destroyed. We believe it on account of the grounds already stated, 
and also on account of the consequences resulting from a different 
hypothesis. For, it must add great weight to our assurance of its 
immortality and everlasting duration that this opinion may, while the 
contrary opinion cannot possibly, be true. Wherefore, we may 
trast the traditions of old time, and especially of our own race, when 
they tell us that there is something deathless and divine about the 
things which, although moving, have a movement that is not bounded, 
but is itself the universal bound, a perfect circle enclosing in its re- 
volutions the imperfect motions that are subject to restraint and 
arrest ; while this, being without beginning or end or rest through 
infinite time, is the one from which all others originate, and into 
which they disappear. That heaven which antiquity assigned to 
the gods as an immortal abode, is shown by the present argument to 
be uncreated and indestructible, exempt alike from mortal weakness 
and from the weariness of subjection to a force acting in opposition 
to its natural inclination ; for in proportion to its everlasting continu- 
ance such a compulsion would be laborious, and unparticipant in 
the highest perfection of design. We must not, then, believe with 
the old mythologists that an Atlas is needed to uphold it; for they, 
like some in more recent times, fancied that the heavens were made 
of heavy earthy matter, and so fabled an animated necessity for their 
support ; nor yet that, as Empedocles says, they will last only so 
long as their own proper momentum is exceeded by the whirling 
motion of which they partake.' Nor, again, is it likely that their ever- 
lasting revolution can be kept up by the exercise of a conscious will ; 

' This conjecture of Empedocles deserves more aUention than it has as yet re- 
ceived. It illustrates once more the sujjerior insight of the early thinkers as com- 
pared with Aristotle. 


for no soul could lead a happy and blessed existence diat was engaged 
in such a task, necessitating, as it would, an unceasing struggle with 
their native tendency to move in a different direction, without even 
the mental relaxation and bodily rest which mortals gain by sleep, 
but doomed to the eternal torment of an Ixion's wheel. Our 
explanation, on the other hand, is, as we say, not only more consist- 
ent with the eternity of the heavens, but also can alone be reconciled 
with the acknowledged vaticinations of religious faith.' 

It will be seen from the foregoing passage how strong 

a hold the old Greek notion of an encircling limit had on 

the mind of Aristotle, and how he transformed it back from 

the high intellectual significance given to it by Plato into its 

original sense of a mere space-enclosing figure. And it will 

also be seen how he credits his spheres with a full measure of 

that moving power which, according to his rather unfair 

criticism, the Platonic Ideas did not possess. His astronomy 

also supplied him with that series of graduated transitions 

between two extremes in which Greek thought so much 

delighted. The heavenly bodies mediate between God and 

the earth ; partly active and partly passive, they both receive 

and communicate the moving creative impulse. The four 

terrestrial elements are moved in the various categories of 

substance, quantity, quality, and place ; the aether moves in 

place only. God remains ' without variableness or shadow of 

a change.' Finally, by its absolute simplicity and purity, the 

aether mediates between the coarse matter perceived by our 

senses and the absolutely immaterial Nous, and is itself 

supposed to be pervaded by a sirnilar gradation of fineness 

from top to bottom. Furthermore, the upper fire, which 

must not be confounded with flame, furnishes a connecting 

link between the aether and the other elements, being related 

to them as Form to Matter, or as agent to patient ; and, 

when the elements are decomposed into their constituent 

qualities, hot and cold occupy a similar position with regard 

to wet and dr)'. 

' Dc Codo, II., \. 



In mastering Aristotle's cosmology, we have gained the 
key to his entire method of systematisation. Henceforth, the 
Stagirite has no secrets from us. Where we were formerly 
content to show that he erred, we can now show why he 
erred ; by generalising his principles of arrangement, we can 
exhibit them still more clearly in their conflict with modern 
thought. The method, then, pursued by Aristotle is to divide 
his subject into two more or less unequal masses, one of which 
is supposed to be governed by necessary principles, admitting 
of certain demonstration ; while the other is irregular, and 
can only be studied according to the rules of probable 
evidence. The parts of the one are homogeneous and con- 
centrically disposed, the movements of each being controlled 
by that immediately outside and above it. The parts of the 
other are heterogeneous and distributed among a number of 
antithetical pairs, between whose members there is, or ought 
to be, a general equilibrium preserved, the whole system 
having a common centre which either oscillates from one 
extreme to another, or holds the balance between them. 
The second system is enclosed within the first, and is 
altogether dependent on it for the impulses determining its 
processes of metamorphosis and equilibration. Where the 
internal adjustments of a system to itself or of one system to 
the other are not consciously made, Aristotle calls them 
Nature. They are always adapted to secure its everlasting 
continuance either in an individual or a specific form. 
Actuality belongs more particularly to the first sphere, and 
possibility to the second, but both are, to a certain extent, 
represented in each. 

We have already seen how this fundamental division is 
applied to the universe as a whole. But our philosopher is 
not content with classifying the phenomena as he finds 


them ; he attempts to demonstrate the necessity of their dual 
existence ; and in so doing is guilty of something very like a 
vicious circle. For, after proving from the terrestrial move- 
ments that there must be an eternal movement to keep them 
going, he now assumes the revolving aether, and argues that 
there must be a motionless solid centre for it to revolve round, 
although a geometrical axis would have served the purpose 
equally well. By a still more palpable fallacy, he proceeds 
to show that a body whose tendency is towards the centre, 
must, in the nature of things, be opposed by another body 
whose tendency is towards the circumference. In order to 
fill up the interval created by this opposition, two inter- 
mediate bodies are required, and thus we get the four ele- 
ments — earth, water, air, and fire. These, again, are resolved 
into the antithetical couples, dry and wet, hot and cold, the 
possible combinations of which, by twos, give us the four 
elements once more. Earth is dry and cold, water cold and 
wet, air wet and hot, fire hot and dry ; each adjacent pair 
having a quality in common, and each element being charac- 
terised by the excess of a particular quality; earth is 
especially dry, water cold, air wet, and fire hot. The common 
centre of each antithesis is what Aristotle calls the First 
Matter, the mere abstract unformed possibility of existence. 
This matter always combines two qualities, and has the power 
of oscillating from one quality to another, but it cannot, as a 
rule, simultaneously exchange both for their opposites. Earth ^ 
may pass into water, exchanging dry for wet, but not so 
readily into air, which would necessitate a double exchange at " 
the same moment. 

Those who will may see in all this an anticipation of 
chemical substitution and double decomposition. We can 
assure them that it will be by no means the most absurd 
parallel discovered between ancient and modern ideas. It is 
possible, however, to trace a more real connexion between the 
Aristotelian physics and mediaeval thought. We do not of 


course mean the scholastic philosophy, for there never was 
the slightest doubt as to its derivation ; we allude to the 
alchemy and astrology which did duty for positive science 
during so many centuries, and even overlapped it down to the 
time of Newton, himself an ardent alchemist. The super- 
stitions of astrology originated independently of the peripa- 
tetic system, and probably long before it, but they were likely 
to be encouraged by it instead of being repressed, as they 
would have been by a less anthropomorphic philosophy. 
Aristotle himself, as we have seen, limited the action of the 
heavens on the sublunary sphere to their heating power ; but, 
by crediting them with an immortal reason and the pursuit 
of ends unknown to us, he opened a wide field for conjecture 
as to what those ends were, and how they could be ascertained. 
That the stars and planets were always thinking and acting, 
but never about our affairs, was not a notion likely to be 
permanently accepted. Neither was it easy to believe that 
their various configurations, movements, and names (the last 
probably revealed by themselves) were entirely without sig- 
nificance. From such considerations to the casting of horo- 
scopes is not a far remove. The Aristotelian chemistry would 
still more readily lend itself to the purposes of alchemy. If 
Nature is one vast process of transmutation, then particular 
bodies, such as the metals, not only may, but must be con- 
vertible into one another. And even those who rejected 
Aristotle's logic with scorn still clung to his natural philo- 
sophy when it flattered their hopes of gain. Bacon kept the 
theory of substantial forms. His originality consisted in 
looking for a method by which any form, or assemblage of 
forms might be superinduced at pleasure on the under- 
lying matter. The real development of knowledge pursued 
a far different course. The great discoverers of the sixteenth 
and seventeenth centuries achieved their success by absolutely 
reversing the method of Aristotle, by bringing into fruitful 
contact principles which he had condemned to barren isolation. 


They carried terrestrial physics into the heavens ; they 
brought down the absoluteness and eternity of celestial law to 
earth ; they showed that Aristotle's antithetical qualities were 
merely quantitative distinctions. These they resolved into 
modes of motion ; and they also resolved all motions into one, 
which was both rectilinear and perpetual. But they and their 
successors put an end to all dreams of transmutation, when 
they showed by another synthesis that all matter, at least 
within the limits of our experience, has the changeless con- 
sistency once attributed exclusively to the stellar spheres. 

When Aristotle passes from the whole cosmos to the philo- 
sophy of life, his method of systematic division is less distinctly 
illustrated, but still it may be traced. The fundamental sepa- 
ration is between body and soul. The latter has a wider 
meaning than what we associate with it at present. It covers 
the psychic functions and the whole life of the organism, which, 
again, is not what we mean by life. For life with us is both 
individual and collective ; it resides in each speck of proto- 
plasm, and also in the consensus of the whole organism. 
With Aristotle it is more exclusively a central principle, the 
final cause of the organism, the power which holds it togethen 
and by which it was originally shaped. Biology begins by 
determining the idea of the whole, and then considers the 
means by which it is realised. The psychic functions are 
arranged according to a system of teleological subordination. 
The lower precedes the higher in time, but is logically neces- 
sitated by it, Thus nutrition, or the vegetative life in general, 
must be studied in close connexion with sensation and impulse, 
or animal life ; and this, again, with thought or pure reason- 
ing. On the other hand, anatomy and physiology are 
considered from a purely chemical and mechanical point of 
view. A vital purpose is, indeed, assigned to every organ, 
but with no more reference to its specifically vital properties 
than if it formed part of a steam engine. Here, as always with 
Aristotle, the idea of moderation determines the point of view 


whence the inferior or material system is to be studied. 
Organic tissue is made up of the four elemental principles — 
hot, cold, wet, and dry — mixed together in proper proportions ; 
and the object of organic function is to maintain them in due 
equilibrium, an end effected by the regulating power of the 
soul, which, accordingly, has its seat in the heart or centre of 
the body. It has been already shown how, in endeavouring 
to work out this chimerical theory, Aristotle went much 
further astray from the truth than sundry other Greek physio- 
logists less biassed by the requirements of a symmetrical 

After the formal and material elements of life have been 
separately discussed, there comes an account of the process 
by which they are first brought into connexion, for this is how 
Aristotle views generation. With him it is the information 
of matter by psychic foi-ce ; and his notions about the part 
which each parent plays in the production of a new being 
are vitiated throughout by this mistaken assumption. Never- 
theless his treatise on the subject is, for its time, one of the 
most wonderful works ever written, and, as we are told on 
good authority,' is now less antiquated than the corresponding 
researches of Harvey. The philosopher's peculiar genius for 
observation, analysis, and comparison will partly account for 
his success ; but, if we mistake not, there is another and less 
obvious reason. Here the fatal separation of form and matter 
was, except at first starting, precluded by the very idea of 
generation ; and the teleological principle of spontaneous efforts 
to realise a predetermined end was, as it happened, perfectly 
in accordance with the facts themselves. 

And now, looking back on his cosmolgy, we can see that 
Aristotle was never so near the truth as when he tried to 
bridge over the gulf between his two spheres, the one corrup- 
tible and the other eternal, by the idea of motion considered 
as a specific property of all matter, and persisting through all 

' Lewes, quoted by Zellcr, p. 524. 


time ; as a link between the celestial revolutions and the 
changes occurring on or near the earth's surface ; and, finally, 
as the direct cause of heat, the great agent acting in opposition 
to gravity — which last view may have suggested Bacon's 
capital discovery, that heat is itself a mode of motion. 

Another method by which Aristotle strove to overcome 
the antithesis between life as a mechanical arrangement and 
life as a metaphysical conception, was the newly created study 
of comparative anatomy. The variations in structure and 
function which accompany variations in the environment, 
though statically and not dynamically conceived, bring us 
very near to the truth that biological phenomena are subject 
to the same general laws of causation as all other phenomena ; 
and it is this truth which, in the science of life, corresponds to 
the identification of terrestrial with celestial physics in the 
science of general mechanics. Vitality is not an individual- 
ised principle stationed in the heart and serving only to 
balance opposite forces against one another ; but it is dift"used 
through all the tissues, and bestows on them that extraordinary 
plasticity which responds to the actions of the environment 
by spontaneous variations capable of being summed up in any 
direction, and so creating entirely new organic forms without 
the intervention of any supernatural agency. 


We have now to consider how Aristotle treats psychology, 
not in connexion with biology, but as a distinct science — a 
separation not quite consistent with his own definition of soul, 
but forced on him by the traditions of Greek philosophy and 
by the nature of things. Here the fundamental antithesis 
assumes a three-fold form. First the theoretical activity of 
mind is distinguished from its practical activity ; the one being 
exercised on things which cannot, the other on things which 


can, be changed. Again, a similar distinction prevails within 
the special province of each. Where truth is the object, know- 
ledge stands opposed to sense ; where good is sought, reason 
rises superior to passion. The one antithesis had been intro- 
duced into philosophy by the early physicists, the other by 
Socrates. They were confounded in the psychology of Plato, 
and Aristotle had the merit of separating them once more. Yet 
even he preserves a certain artificial parallelism between them 
by using the common name Nous, or reason, to denote the con- 
trolling member in each. To make his anthropology still more 
complex, there is a third antithesis to be taken into account, 
that between the individual and the community, which also 
sometimes slides into a partial coincidence with the other two. 
Aristotle's treatise on the soul is mainly devoted to a de- 
scription of the theoretical faculties — sense, and thought or 
reason. By sense we become acquainted with the material 
qualities of things ; by thought with their forms or ideas. It 
has been already mentioned that, according to our philosopher, 
the organism is a system of contrary forces held in equilibrium 
by the soul, whose seat he supposes to be in the heart. We 
now learn that every sensation is a disturbance of this equi- 
librium. In other words, the sensorium being virtually any 
and every mode of matter, is raised from possibility to actu- 
ality by the presence of some one force, such as heat or cold, 
in sufficient strength to incline the balance that way. Here 
we have, quite in Aristotle's usual style, a description instead 
of an explanation. The atomic notion of thin films thrown 
off from the object of sense, and falling on the organs of sight 
or touch, was but a crude guess ; still it has more affinity with 
the discoveries of a Young or a Helmholtz than scholastic 
phrases about potentiality and actuality. That sensation 
implies a disturbance of equilibrium is, indeed, an important 
truth ; only, the equilibrium must be conceived as a balance, 
not of possible sensations, but of molecular states ; that is to 
say, it must be interpreted according to the atomic theory. 


Aristotle is more successful when he proceeds to discuss 
the imagination. He explains it to be a continuance of the 
movement originally communicated by the felt object to the 
organ of sense, kept up in the absence of the object itself; — 
as near an approach to the truth as could be made in his time. 
And he is also right in saying that the operations of reason 
are only made possible by the help of what he calls phan- 
tasms — that is, faint reproductions of sensations. In addition to 
this, he points out the connexion between memory and ima- 
gination, and enumerates the laws of association briefly, but 
with great accuracy. He is, however, altogether unaware of 
their scope. So far from using them to explain all the mental 
processes, he does not even see that they account for involun- 
tary reminiscence, and limits them to the voluntary operation 
by which we recall a missing name or other image to con- 

So far, Aristotle regards the soul as a function, or energy, 
or perfection of the body, from which it can no more be sepa- 
rated than vision from the eye. It is otherwise with the 
part of mind which he calls Nous, or Reason — the faculty 
which takes cognisance of abstract ideas or the pure forms of 
things. This corresponds, in the microcosm, to the eternal 
Nous of the macrocosm, and, like it, is absolutely immaterial, 
not depending for its activity on the exercise of any bodily 
organ. There is, however, a general analogy between sensa- 
tion and thought considered as processes of cognition. Pre- 
vious to experience, the Nous is no thought in particular, but 
merely a possibility of thinking, like a smooth wax tablet 
waiting to be written on. It is determined to some particular 
idea by contact with the objective forms of things, and in this 
determination is raised from power to actuality. The law of 
moderation, however, does not apply to thought. Excessive 
stimulation is first injurious and then destructive to the 
organs of sense, but we cannot have too much of an idea ; the 
more intense it is the better are we able to conceive all the 


ideas that come under it, just because ideation is an incorpo- 
real process. And there seems to be this further distinction 
between sensation and thought, that the latter is much more 
completely identified with its object than the former ; it is in 
the very act of imprinting themselves on the Nous that the 
forms of things become perfectly detached from matter, and 
so attain their final realisation. It is only in our conscious- 
ness that the eternal ideas of transient phenomena become 
conscious of themselves. Such, we take it, is the true inter- 
pretation of Aristotle's famous distinction between an active 
and a passive Nous. The one, he tells us, makes whatever 
the other is made. The active Nous is like light raising 
colours from possibility to actuality. It is eternal, but we have 
no remembrance of its past existence, because the passive 
Nous, without which it can think nothing, is perishable. 

It will be seen that we do not consider the two kinds of 
Nous to differ from each other as a higher and a lower faculty. 
This, in our opinion, has been the great mistake of the com- 
mentators, of those, at least, who do not identify the active 
Nous with God, or with some agency emanating from God — 
a hypothesis utterly inconsistent with Aristotle's theology. 
They describe it as a faculty, and as concerned with some 
higher kind of knowledge than what lies within the reach of 
the passive Nous.' But with Aristotle faculty is always a 
potentiality and a passive recipient, whereas the creative 
reason is expressly declared to be an actuality, which, in this 
connexion, can mean nothing but an individual idea. The 
difficulty is to understand why the objective forms of things 
should suddenly be spoken of as existing within the mind, 
and denominated by a term carrying with it such subjective 
associations as Nous ; a difficulty not diminished by the mys- 
terious comparison with light in its relation to colour, an illus- 

' So Trendelenburg, Brandis, Kampe, and apparently also Zeller. Grote 
speaks of it rather vagui ly as an intelligence pervading the celestial sphere. 
Schwegler vacillates between the theological and the psychological explanation. 


tration which, in this instance, has only made the darkness 
visible. We believe that Aristotle was led to express himself 
as he did by the following considerations. He began by 
simply conceiving that, just as the senses were raised from 
potency to actuality through contact with the corresponding 
qualities in external objects, so also was the reasoning faculty 
moulded into particular thoughts through contact with the 
particular things embodying them ; thus, for instance, it was 
led to conceive the general idea of straightness by actual ex- 
perience of straight lines. It then, perhaps, occurred to him 
that one and the same object could not produce two such 
profoundly different impressions as a sensation and a thought ; 
that mind was opposed to external realities by the attribute 
of self-consciousness ; and that a form inherent in matter could 
not directly impress itself on an immaterial substance. The 
idea of a creative Nous was, we think, devised in order to 
escape from these perplexities. The ideal forms of things are 
carried into the mind, together with the sensations, and in 
passing through the imagination, become purified from the 
matter previously associated with them. Thus they may be 
conceived as part of the mind — in, though not yet of it — and as 
acting on its highest faculty, the passive Nous. And, by a 
kind of anticipation, they are called by the name of what they 
become completely identified with in cognition. As forms cf 
things they are eternal ; as thoughts they are self-conscious ; 
while, in both capacities, they are creative, and their creative 
activity is an essentially immaterial process. Here we have 
the old confusion between form and function ; the old 
inability to reconcile the claims of the universal and the par- 
ticular in knowledge and existence. After all, Aristotle is 
obliged to extract an actuality from the meeting of two pos- 
sibilities, instead of from the meeting of an actuality and a 
possibility. Probably the weakness of his own theory did not 
escape him, for he never subsequently recurs to it.' 

' Tlie last chapter of the Posterior Analytus sets fortli a much more developed 


Aristotle's work on reproduction is supposed by many to 
contain a reference to his distinction between the two Reasons, 
but we are convinced that this is a mistake. What we are 
told is that at the very first formation of a new being, the 
vegetative soul, being an exclusively corporeal function, is 
precontained in the elements furnished by the female ; that 
the sensitive soul is contributed by the male (being, appar- 
ently, engendered in the semen by the vital heat of the parent 
organism) ; and, finally, that the rational soul, although entirely 
immaterial, is also carried in with the semen, into which it 
has first been introduced from without, but where, or when, 
or how is not more particularly specified.^ But even were 
the genetic theory in question perfectly cleared up, it would 
still throw no light on the distinction between active and pas- 
sive reason, as the latter alone can be understood by the 
rational soul to which it refers. For we are expressly informed 
— what indeed hardly required to be stated — that the embry- 
onic souls exist not in act but in potency.^ It seems, there- 
fore, that Mr. Edwin Wallace is doubly mistaken when he 
quotes a sentence from this passage in justification of his 
statement, that ' Aristotle would seem almost to identify ' the 
creative reason * with God as the eternal and omnipresent 
thinker ; ' ^ first, because it does not refer to the creative Nous 
at all ; and, secondly, because, if it did, the words would not 
stand the meaning which he puts upon them."* 

and definite theory of the process by which general ideas are formed. We think 
that it was composed at a considerably later date than the rest of the work, and 
probably after the treatise on the Soul, to which we should almost suspect an 
allusion in the word irdXai (p. 100, a, 14), did philology permit. The reference 
can hardly be to the first part of the chapter (as is generally supposed) ; nor has 
the subject under discussion been touched on in any other part of the Aiialytics. 

' Grote and Kampe think that Aristotle assigns a portion of aether as an ex- 
tended, if not precisely a material, substratum to the rational soul ; but the argu- 
ments of Zeller (p. 569) seem decisive against this view. 

^ De Ge7i. An., II., iii., p. 736, b, 15. 

' Out lines of the Philosophy of Aristotle, p. 45. 

^ The word Qilov, at any rate, does not mean 'almost God,' for Aristotle 
applies it to the intelligence of bees, and also to the heavenly bodies {De Gen. An ., 
III., X., p. 761, a, 5 ; De Coelo, II., xii., p. 292, b, 32). 

B B 


But if even so little as this remains unproved, what are we 
to think of the astounding assertion, that ' Aristotle's theory 
of a creative reason, fragmentary as that theory is left, is 
the answer to all materialistic theories of the universe. To 
Aristotle, as to a subtle Scottish preacher,^ " the real presuppo- 
sition of all knowledge, or the thought which is the pritts of 
all things, is not the individual's consciousness of himself as 
individual, but a thought or self-consciousness which is beyond 
all individual selves, which is the unity of all individual selves, 
and their objects, of all thinkers and all objects of thought." ' ^ 
How can materialism or anything else be possibly refuted by 
a theory which is so obscurely set forth that no two interpreters 
are able to agree in their explanation of it .-' And even were 
it stated with perfect clearness and fulness, how can any 
hypothesis be refuted by a mere dogmatic declaration of 
Aristotle .-• Are we back in the Middle Ages that his ipse 
dixit is to decide questions now raised with far ampler means 
of discussion than he could possess .-• As to Principal Caird's 
metaphysics, we have no wish to dispute their theoretic 
accuracy, and can only admire the liberality of a Church in 
which propositions so utterly destructive of traditional ortho- 
doxy are allowed to be preached. But one thing we are 
certain of, and that is, that whether or not they are consistent 
with Christian theism, they are utterly inconsistent with 
Aristotelian principles. Which is the * thought or self-con- 
sciousness ' referred to, a possibility or an actuality .'* If the 
former, it is not di pritis, nor is it the creative reason. If the 
latter, it cannot transcend all or any individual selves, for, 
with Aristotle, individuals are the sole reality, and the 
supreme being of his system is pre-eminently individual ; 
neither can it unify them, for, according to Aristotle, two 
things which are two in actuality cannot be one in actuality.^ 

We now turn to Sir A. Grant, who, as was mentioned at 

' Principal Caird, ^ Outlines, Preface, p. viii. 

' Metaph., VII., xiii., p. 1039, a, 4. 


the beginning of the last chapter, makes Aristotle a supporter 
of the late Prof Ferrier. We will state the learned Principal's 
view in his own words : — 

' His utterances on this subject [the existence of an external world] 
are perhaps chiefly to be found in the third book of his treatise " On 
the Soul," beginning with the fourth chapter. On turning to them 
we see that he never separates existence from knowledge. " A thing 
in actual existence," he says, "is identical with the knowledge of that 
thing." Again, " The possible existence of a thing is identical with 
the possibility in us of perceiving or knowing it." Thus, until a thing 
is perceived or known, it can only be said to have a potential or 
possible existence. And from this a doctrine very similar to that of 
Ferrier might be deduced, that " nothing exists except ////i- me," — that 
is to say, in relation to some mind perceiving it.' (Aristotle, p. 165.) 

After much searching, we have not been able to find the 
originals of the two passages quoted by Sir A. Grant. We 
have, however, found others setting forth the doctrine of 
Natural Realism with a clearness which leaves nothing to be 
desired. Aristotle tells us that former naturalists were wrong 
when they said that there could be no black or white without 
vision, and no taste without tasting ; that is, they were right 
about the actuality, and wrong about the possibility ; for, as 
he explains, our sensations are produced by the action of 
external bodies on the appropriate organs, the activity being 
the same while the existence is different. A sonorous body 
produces a sound in our hearing ; the sound perceived and 
the action of the body are identical, but not their existence ; 
for, he adds, the hearer need not be always listening, nor the 
sonorous body sounding ; and so with all the other senses.' 

This is not making iho. pcrcipi of objects \.h.Q'n- esse. Again, 
in the eighth chapter he tells us that the soul is ' in a certain 
way ' {iTbis) all things, since all things are either sensible or 
cogitable ; and then he proceeds to explain what is meant by 

' De An., III., ii., p. 426, a, 20 ; 425, b, 25 ff. What Aristotle means by 
saying that the ehai of object and sensation is not the same, appears from a 
passage in his tract on Memory (p. 450, b, 20), where he employs the illustration 
of a portrait and its original, which are the same, although their elvat is different. 

B B 2 


' in a certain way.' Sense and knowledge are distributed over 
things in such wise that their possibihty is the possibility, and 
their actuality the actuality, of the things. They must, then, 
be either the things themselves or their forms. ' Bui the 
things theinselves they are surely not, for the stone is not in the 
soul, but its form.' In the Metaphysics, Aristotle expresses 
himself to the same effect, but even more explicitly. Criticis- 
ing the Protagorean doctrine, he reduces it to an absurdity by 
urging that if there were nothing but sensibles, then nothing 
at all could exist in the absence of animated beings, for 
without them there would be no sensation. He admits that in 
the case supposed there would be neither feelings nor felt 
objects, since these presuppose a sentient subject ; but adds, 
that for the substances (ra viroKslixeva) which produce the feel- 
ing not to exist is impossible ; ' for there is something else 
besides the feeling which must necessarily exist before it.' ' 
And immediately afterwards he clinches the argument by ob- 
serving that if appearances were the only truth, there would 
be no independent existences, and everything would be rela- 
tive, since appearances exist only in relation to some one to 
whom they appear. Now we need hardly say that this uni- 
versal relativity was precisely what Ferrier contended for. 

Sir A. Grant is on stronger, or rather on more inaccessible 
ground, when he uses the distinction between the two rea.sons 
as involving a sort of idealistic theory, because here Aristotle's 
meaning is much less clearly expressed. Yet, if our interpre- 
tation be the correct one, if the creative Nous simply means 
the forms of things acting through the imagination on the 
possibilities of subjective conception, Aristotle's view will be 
exactly the reverse of that contended for by Sir Alexander ; 
thought, instead of moulding, will itself be moulded by ex- 
ternal reality. In no case have we a right to set an obscure 
and disputed passage against Aristotle's distinct, emphatic, 
and reiterated declarations, that sensation and ideation are 

» Metaph., IV., v., sub fin. 


substantially analogous processes, taken together with his 
equally distinct declaration, that the objects of sensation are 
independent of our feelings. We think, indeed, that Sir A. 
Grant will find, on reconsideration, that he is proving too 
much. For, if the things which reason creates were external 
to the mind, then Aristotle would go at least as far as those 
' extreme German idealists ' from whom his expositor is 
anxious to separate him. Finally, we would observe that to 
set up Aristotle's distinction between form and matter in 
opposition to the materialistic theories of the present day, 
shows a profound misconception of its meaning. Form and 
matter are nowhere distinguished from one another as subject 
and object. Form simply means the attributes of a thing, the 
entire aggregate of its differential characteristics. But that 
this does not of itself amount to conscious reason we are told 
by Aristotle himself.' On the other hand, the ' matter ' to 
which ' some philosophers ' attribute ' an independent exist- 
ence,' is not his ' matter ' at all, but just the sum of things 
iiiitiHS consciousness. The Stagirite did not, it is truC; believe 
in the possibility of such a universe, but only (as we have 
shown) because he was not acquainted with the highest laws 
of motion. Yet, even taking ' matter ' in his own technical 
sense, Aristotle would have agreed with Prof. Tyndall, that 
it contained the promise and the potency of all future life, 
reason alone excepted. He tells us very clearly that the 
sensitive soul is a somatic function, something which, although 
not body, belongs to body ; and this we conceive is all that 
any materialist would now contend for.^ And having gone 
so far, there really was nothing to prevent him from going a 
step farther, had he only been acquainted with the dependence 
of all intelligence on nervous action. At any rate, the ten- 
dency is now to obliterate the distinction where he drew' it, 
and to substitute for it another distinction which he neglected. 
While all functions of consciousness, from the most elementary 
' De An., III., iv., sub fin. - De An., II., ii., p. 414, a, 20. 


sensation to tlie most complex reasoning, seem to pass into 
one another by imperceptible gradations, consciousness in 
general is still separated from objective existence by an im- 
passable chasm ; and if there is any hope of reconciling them 
it lies in the absolute idealism which he so summarily rejected. 
A\Tiat we have had occasion repeatedly to point out in other 
departments of his system, is verified once more in his psy- 
cholog}'. The progress of thought has resulted from a 
reunion of the principles between which he drew a rigid demar- 
cation. We have found that perception can only be under- 
stood as a process essentially homogeneous with the highest 
thought, and neither more nor less immaterial than it is. On 
the objective side, both may be resolv^ed into sensori-motor 
actions ; on the subjective side, into groups of related feelings. 
And here, also, we have to note that when Aristotle antici- 
pates modern thought, it is through his one great mediating, 
synthetic conception. He obser\^es incidentally that our know- 
ledge of size and shape is acquired, not through the special 
senses, but by motion — an aper^u much in advance of Locke.^ 
If there are any who value Aristotle as a champion of 
spiritualism, they must take him with his encumbrances. If 
his philosophy proves that one part of the soul is immaterial, 
it proves equally that the soul, taking it altogether, is perish- 
able. Not only does he reject Plato's metempsychosis as 
inconsistent with physiolog}', but he declares that affection, 
memor)^ and reasoning are functions not of the eternal Nous, 
but of the whole man, and come to an end with his dissolution. 
As to the active Nous, he tells us that it cannot think without 
the assistance of the passive Nous, which is mortal. And there 
are various passages in the ' Nicomachean Ethics ' showing that 
he had faced this negation of a future life, and was perfectly re- 
signed to its consequences.^ At one period of his life, probably 
when under the immediate influence of Plato, he had indulged 

' De An., III., i., p. 425 a, 13. 

' See Zeller pp. 602-606, where the whole subject is thoroughly discussed. 


in dreams of immortality ; but a profounder acquaintance 
with natural science sufficed to dissipate them. Perhaps a 
lingering veneration for his teacher made him purposely use 
ambiguous language in reference to the eternity of that 
creative reason which he had so closely associated with self- 
consciousness. It may remind us of Spinoza's celebrated 
proposition, Sentivtus experiimirqice nos atternos esse, words 
absolutely disconnected with the hope of a continued existence 
of the individual after death, but apparently intended to enlist 
some of the sentiment associated with that belief on the side 
of the writer's own philosophy. 

On the other hand, the spirit of Plato's religion survived in 
the teaching of his disciple under a new form. The idea of an 
eternal personality was, as it were, unified and made objective 
by being transferred from the human to the divine ; and so each 
philosopher developes an aspect of religious faith which is 
wanting in the other, thereby illustrating the tendencies, to 
some extent mutually exclusive, which divide all theology 
between them. It remains to observe that if even Aristotle's 
theism is inconsistent with the Catholic faith, much more must 
his psychology be its direct negation. The Philosophy of the 
Philosopher is as fatal to the Church's doctrine of future 
rewards and punishments as it is to her doctrine of divine 
interference with the usual order of nature. 


We now pass to the consideration of Aristotle's most 
important achievement — his system of logic. And as, here 
also, we shall find much to criticise, it is as well to begin by 
saying that, in our opinion, his contributions to the science 
are the most valuable ever made, and perhaps have done 
more to advance it than all other writings on the same subject 
put together. 

The principal business of reason is, as we have seen, to 


form abstract ideas or concepts of things. But before the 
time of Aristotle it had already been discovered that con- 
cepts, or rather the terms expressing them, were capable of 
being united in propositions which might be either true or 
false, and whose truth might be a matter either of certainty 
or of simp"'e opinion. Now, in modern psychology, down to 
the most recent times, it has always been assumed that, just 
as there is an intellectual faculty or operation called abstrac- 
tion corresponding to the terms of which a proposition is 
composed, so also there is a faculty or operation called judg- 
ment corresponding to the entire proposition. Sometimes, 
again, the third operation, which consists in linking proposi- 
tions together to form syllogisms, is assigned to a distinct 
faculty called reason ; sometimes all three are regarded as 
ascending steps in a single fundamental process. Neither 
Plato nor Aristotle, however, had thought out the subject so 
scientifically. To both the framing, or rather the discovery, 
of concepts was by far the most important business of a 
philosopher, judgment and reasoning being merely subsidiary 
to it. Hence, while in one part of their logic they were real- 
ists and conceptualists, in other parts they were nominalists. 
Abstract names and the definitions unfolding their connota- 
tion corresponded to actual entities in Nature — the eternal 
Ideas of the one and the substantial forms of the other — as 
well as to mental representations about whose existence they 
were agreed, while ascribing to them a different origin. But 
they did not in like manner treat propositions as the expres- 
sion of natural laws without, or of judgments within, the 
mind ; while reasoning they regarded much more as an art of 
thinking, a method for the discovery of ideas, than as the 
systematisation of a process spontaneously performed by 
every human being without knowing it ; and, even as such, 
their tendency is to connect it with the theory of definition 
rather than with the theory of synthetic propositions. Some 
approach to a realistic view is, indeed, made by both. The 


restless and penetrating thought of Plato had, probably 
towards the close of his career, led him to enquire into the 
mutual relations of those Ideas which he had at first been in- 
clined to regard as absolutely distinct. He shows us in the 
Sophist how the most abstract notions, such as Being, Iden- 
tity, and so forth, must, to a certain extent, partake of each 
other's nature ; and when their relationship does nut lie on 
the surface, he seeks to establish it by the interposition of a 
third idea obviously connected with both. In the later books 
of the Republic he also points to a scheme for arranging his 
Ideas according to a fixed hierarchy resembling the concatena- 
tion of mathematical proofs, by ascending and descending 
whose successive gradations the mind is to become familiarised 
with absolute truth ; and we shall presently see how Aristotle, 
following in the same track, sought for a counterpart to his 
syllogistic method in the objective order of things. Never- 
theless, with him, as well as with his master, science was not 
what it is with us, a study of laws, a perpetually growing body 
of truth, but a process of definition and classification, a 
systematisation of what had already been perceived and 

It was from the initiative of Socrates that logic received 
this direction. By insisting on the supreme importance of 
definition, he drew away attention from the propositions 
which add to our knowledge, and concentrated it on those 
which only fix with precision the meaning of words. Yet, in 
so doing he was influenced quite as much by the spirit of the 
older physical philosophy, which he denounced, as by the 
necessities of the new humanistic culture, which he helped to 
introduce. His definitions were, in truth, the reproduction, 
on a very minute scale, of those attempts to formulate the 
whole universe which busied the earliest Ionian specula- 
tion. Following the natural tendency of Greek thought, and 
the powerful attraction of cosmic philosophy, an efibrt was 
speedily made to generalise and connect these partial defini- 


tions until they grew into a system of universal classification. 
It was when, under the influence of a new analysis, this 
system threatened to fall to pieces, that a rudimentary doc- 
trine of judgment first made its appearance. The structure of a 
grammatical sentence was used to explain how objective 
ideas could, in a manner, overlap and adhere to one another. 
Hence propositions, which, as the expression of general truths, 
were destined to become the beginning and end of thought, 
remained at first strictly subordinated to the individual con- 
cepts that they linked and reconciled. 

With Aristotle propositions assumed a new importance. 
He looked on them as mediating, not only between concepts 
but also between conception and reasoning. Still, neither as 
a psychologist nor as a logician did he appreciate them at their 
real value. A very brief consideration is given to judgment 
in his work on the soul, and we are left in doubt whether it is 
a function of Nous alone or of Nous combined with some other 
faculty. Setting aside the treatise on Interpretation, which 
is probably spurious, and, at any rate, throws no new light on 
the subject, we may gather from his logical writings half a 
dozen different suggestions towards a classification of propo- 
sitions, based partly on their form and partly on their import. 
In all we find an evident tendency to apply, here also, his 
grand fundamental distinction between the sphere of uniformity 
and the sphere of change and opposition. All propositions 
are either universal or particular ; either positive or negative ; 
either necessary or actual or contingent ; either reciprocating 
or not reciprocating ; either essential or accidental ; either 
answering to the first question in the categories, or to one of 
the other nine.' But nowhere is any attempt made to com- 
bine and systematise these various points of view. 

In the theory of reasoning the simple proposition is taken 
as a starting-point ; but instead of deducing the syllogism 

' Anal. Fr., I., i., sub in. ; ii., sitd in. ; Top., I., viii., Bekker (in the 
Tauchnitz cd., vi.). 


from the synthesis of two premises, Aristotle reaches the 
premises through the conclusion. He tells us, indeed, that 
reasoning is a way of discovering from what we know, some- 
thing that we did not know before. With him, however, it is 
really a process not of discovery but of proof. He starts 
with the conclusion, analyses it into predicate and subject or 
major and minor, and then, by a further analysis, introduces 
a middle term connecting the two. Thus, we begin with the 
proposition, ' Caius is mortal,' and prove it by interpolating 
the notion humanity between its two extremes. From this 
point of view the premises are merely a temporary scaffolding 
for bringing the major and minor into connexion with the 
middle term ; and this is also the reason why Aristotle recog- 
nises three syllogistic figures only, instead of the four ad- 
mitted by later logicians. For, the middle may either be 
contained in one extreme and contain the other, which gives 
us the first figure ; or it may contain both, which gives the 
second figure; or be contained in both, which gives the 
third ; and this is an exhaustive enumeration of the possible 

We have here, also, the secret of that elaborate machinery 
devised for the very unnecessary purpose of converting syllo- 
gisms of the second and third figure into syllogisms of the first, 
which is one of the Stagirite's principal contributions to logic. 
For it is only in the first figure that the notion by which the 
extremes are either united or held apart is really a middle 
term, that is to say, really comes between the others. The 
distinction between perfect and imperfect syllogisms also 
•serves to illustrate Aristotle's systematic division between 
the necessary and the contingent. The method of proof by 
inclusion corresponds in its unconditioned and independent 
validity to the concentric arrangement of the supernal spheres ; 
the second and third figures, with their conversions and reduc- 
tions, to the sublunary sphere in its helpless dependence on 

' Anal. Fr., I., xxiii., 41, a, ii (in the Tauchnitz ed., xxii., 8). 


the celestial revolutions, and its transformations of the ele- 
ments into one another. 

The rules which Aristotle gives us for the conversion of 
propositions are no doubt highly instructive, and throw great 
light on their meaning ; but one cannot help observing that 
such a process as conversion ought, on his own principles, to 
have been inadmissible. With Plato, the copulation of sub- 
ject and predicate corresponded to an almost mechanical 
juxtaposition of two self-existent ideas. It was, therefore, a 
matter of indifference in what order they were placed. Aris- 
totle, on the other hand, after insisting on the restoration of 
the concrete object, and reducing general notions to an 
analysis of its particular aspects, could not but make the pre- 
dicate subordinate to, and dependent on, the subject — a rela- 
tion which altogether excludes the logical possibility of 
making them interchangeable with one another.^ 

The antithetical structure of the whole system is repro- 
duced even in the first syllogistic figure, where there is a 
similar opposition between the first mood, by which alone 
universal affirmatives can be obtained, and the remaining three, 
whose conclusions are either negative or particular, or both. 
And the complicated rules for testing the validity of those 
syllogisms in which the premises are distinguished as neces- 
sary, actual, and possible, are still more obviously based on 
Aristotle's false metaphysical distinctions ; so that with the 
overthrow of those distinctions large portions of the Analytics 
lose their entire value for modern students. 

On the other hand, a theory of reasoning based on the 
relations of concepts, instead of on the relations of judgments, 
necessarily leaves out of account the whole doctrine of hypo- 
thetical and disjunctive propositions, together with that of 
the syllogisms based on them ; since the elements of which 
they are composed are themselves propositions. And this 
inevitable omission is the more remarkable because alterna- 

' This point is well brought cut in F. A. Lange's Logische Untersuclnmgcn. 


tive and, to a less extent, hypothetical arguments form the 

staple of Aristotle's own dialectic ; while categorical reasoning 

never occurs in it at all. His constant method is to enumerate 

all possible views of a subject, and examine them one after 

the other, rejecting those which are untenable, and resting 

content with the remainder. In other words, he reaches his 

positive conclusions through a series of negative premises 

representing a process of gradual elimination. The First 

Analytics is itself an admirable instance of his favourite 

method. Every possible combination of terms is discussed' 

and the valid moods are sifted out from a much greater 

number of illegitimate syllogisms. The dialectic of Socrates 

and Plato followed the same procedure. It was essentially 

experimental — a method of trial, elimination, and selection. 

On going back still further, we find that when there is any 

reasoning at all in Homer, it is conducted after the same 

fashion. Hector, in his soliloquy before the Scaean Gate, 

imagines three alternative courses, together exhausting the 

possibilities of the situation. He may either retreat within 

the walls, or offer terms of peace to Achilles, or fight. The 

first two alternatives being rejected, nothing remains but the 

third. This is the most elaborate example ; but on many 

other occasions Homer's actors are represented as hesitating 

between two courses, and finally deciding on one of them. 

Disjunction is, in truth, the primordial form of all reason- 
ing, out of which the other forms are successively evolved ; 
and, as such, it is common to man with the lower animals. 
You are taking a walk in the country with your dog. You 
come to a stream and jump over it. On measuring the 
distance with his eye, the animal is afraid to follow you. 
After waiting a liittle, he first runs up stream in search of a 
crossing, and, finding none, returns to look for one in the oppo- 
site direction. Failing there also, he comes back once more, and 
either ventures on the leap or makes his way home by some 
other route. Now, on considering the matter a little more 


closely, we shall find that hypothetical reasoning takes its rise 
from the examination of each separate alternative presented 
by a disjunctive premise. A plurality of courses being open 
to us, we consider what will ensue on the acceptance or rejec- 
tion of each. The dog in our illustration thinks (after a 
canine fashion) that if he jumps he may fall in ; if he does not, 
he will be left behind. Hector will not take refuge within the 
walls, because, if he does, Polydamas will triumph over him ; 
nor will he offer terms of peace, because, if he does, Achilles 
will refuse them. Once more, categorical reasoning is de- 
veloped out of hypothetical reasoning by the necessity of 
deducing consequences from a general rule. Hector must 
have argued from the known characters of Polydamas and 
Achilles, that in certain circumstances they would act after a 
certain manner. We may add, that this progress of conscious 
reasoning is a reproduction of the unconscious logic according 
to which life itself is evolved. All sorts of combinations are 
spontaneously produced, which, in consequence of the struggle 
for existence, cannot all survive. Those adapted to the con- 
ditions of life are selected, on trial, at the expense of the rest ; 
and their adaptation or non-adaptation is determined in 
accordance with categorical laws. Furthermore, the framing 
of a disjunctive proposition necessitates the systematic 
distribution of possibilities under mutually exclusive heads, 
thus involving the logical processes of definition, division, and 
classification. Dialectic, as Plato understood it, consisted 
almost entirely in the joint performance of these operations ; 
— a process which Aristotle regards as the immediate but 
very imperfect precursor of his own syllogistic method.' You 
cannot, he says, prove anything by dividing, for instance, all 
living things into the two classes, mortal and immortal ; unless, 
indeed, you assume the very point under discussion — to 
which class a particular species belongs. Yet this io how he 
constantly reasons himself ; and even demonstrative reason- 

• Afial. Pr., I., xxxi. ; Atial. Post., II., v. 


ing, as he interprets it, implies the possession of a ready-made 
classification. For, according to him, it consists exclusively 
of propositions which predicate some essential attribute of 
a thing — in other words, some attribute already included in 
the definition of the subject; and a continuous series of 
such definitions can only be given by a fixed classification of 


We have endeavoured to show that Aristotle's account of 
the syllogism is redundant on the one side and defective on 
the other, both errors being due to a false analysis of the 
reasoning process itself, combined with a false metaphysical 
philosophy. The same evil influences tell with much greater 
effect on his theory of applied reasoning. Here the fundamental 
division, corresponding to that between heaven and earth in 
the cosmos, is between demonstration and dialectic or experi- 
mental reasoning. The one starts with first principles of 
unquestionable validity, the other with principles the validity 
of which is to be tested by their consequences. Stated in its 
most abstract form, the distinction is sound, and very nearly 
prefigures the modern division between deduction and induc- 
tion, the process by which general laws are applied, and 
the process by which they are established. Aristotle, 
however, committed two great mistakes ; he thought that 
each method corresponded to an entirely different order of 
phenomena : and he thought that both were concerned for 
the most part with definitions. The Posterior Analytics, which 
contains his theory of demonstration, answers to the astro- 
nomical portion of his physics ; it is the doctrine of eternal 
and necessary truth. And just as his ontology distinguishes 
between the Prime Mover himself unmoved and the eternal 
movement produced by his influence, so also his logic distin- 
guishes between infallible first principles and the truths 
derived from them, the latter being, in his opinion, of inferior 


value. Now, according to Aristotle, these first principles are 
definitions, and it is to this fact that their self- evident certainty- 
is due. At the same time they are not verbal but real defi- 
nitions—that is to say, the universal forms of things in them- 
selves as made manifest to the eye of reason, or rather, 
stamped upon it like the impression of a signet-ring on wax. 
And, by a further refinement, he seems to distinguish between 
the concept as a whole and the separate marks which make 
it up, these last being the ultimate elements of all existence, 
and as much beyond its complex forms as Nous is beyond 
reasoned truth. 

Such a view was essentially unfavourable to the progress 
of science, assigning, as it did, a higher dignity to meagre and 
very questionable abstractions than to the far-reaching com- 
binations by which alone we are enabled to unravel the inmost 
texture of visible phenomena. Instead of using reason to 
supplement sense, Aristotle turned it into a more subtle and 
universal kind of sense ; and if this disastrous assimilation 
was to a certain extent imposed upon him by the traditions 
of Athenian thought, it harmonised admirably with the de- 
scriptive and superficial character of his own intelligence. 
Much was also due to the method of geometry, which in his 
time had already assumed the form made familiar to us by 
Euclid's Elements. The employment of axioms side by side 
with definitions, might, indeed, have drawn his attention to 
the existence and importance of judgments which, in Kantian 
terminology, are not analytic but synthetic — that is, which 
add to the content of a notion instead of simply analysing it. 
But although he mentions axioms, and states that mathematical 
theorems are deduced from them, no suspicion of their essen- 
tial difference from definitions, or of the typical significance 
which they were destined to assume in the theory of reason- 
ing, seems ever to have crossed his mind ; otherwise he could 
hardly have failed to ask how we come by our know ledge of 
them, and to what they correspond in Nature. On the whole, 


it seems likely that he looked on them as an analysis of our 
ideas, differing only from definition proper by the gene- 
rality of its application ; for he names the law of contradic- 
tion as the most important of all axioms, and that from 
which the others proceed ; ' next to it he places the law of 
excluded middle, which is also analytical ; and his only other 
example is, that if equals be taken from equals the remain- 
ders are equal, a judgment the synthetic character of which 
is by no means clear, and has occasionally been disputed.^ 

We cannot, then, agree with those critics who attribute to 
Aristotle a recognition of such things as ' laws of nature,' in 
the sense of uniform co-existences and sequences.^ Such an 
idea implies a certain balance and equality between subject 
and predicate which he would never have admitted. It would, 
in his own language, be making relation, instead of substance, 
the leading category. It must be remembered also that he 
did not acknowledge the existence of those constant conjunc- 
tions in Nature which we call laws. He did not admit that 
all matter was heavy, or that fluidity implied the presence of 
heat. The possession of constant properties, or rather of a 
single constant property — circular rotation — is reserved for 
the aether. Nor is this a common property of different and 
indefinitely multipliable phenomena ; it characterises a single 
body, measurable in extent and unique in kind. Moreover, 

' A/eiaph., IV., iii., sub in. - Anal. Post., I., x. 

' 'Die Wissenschaft soil die Erscheinungen aus ihren Griinden erklaren, 
welche naher in den allgemeinen Ursachen und Gesetzen zu suchen sind' 
(Zeller, p. 203). 'Induction is the method of proceeding from particular 
instances to general laws' (Wallace, p. 13). * It seems to have been his 
[Aristotle's] idea that after gathering facts up to a certain point, a flash of 
intuition would supervene, telling us "This is a law"' (Grant, p. 68). Apropos 
of the discussion whence this last passage is extracted, we may observe that Sir 
A. Grant is quite mistaken in saying that Aristotle 'omits to provide for verifica- 
tion.' Aiistotle is, on the contrary, most anxious to show that his theories agree 
with all the known facts. See in particular his memorable declaration (De (Jen. 
An., III., X., p. 760, b, 27), that facts are more to be trusted than reasonings. 

The emphasis laid by Aristotle on concepts as distinguished from laws is 
noticed by J. H. v. Kirchmann, in his German translation of the Metaphysics, 
P- 13- 

VOL, I. C C 


we have something better than indirect evidence on this 
point ; we have the plain statement of Aristotle himself, that 
all science depends on first principles, about which it is im- 
possible to be mistaken, precisely because they are universal 
abstractions not presented to the mind by any combina- 
tion,' — a view quite inconsistent with the priority now given 
to general laws. 

Answering to the first principles of demonstration in logic, 
if not absolutely identical with them, are what Aristotle calls 
causes in the nature of things. We have seen what an im- 
portant part the middle term plays in Aristotle's theory of the 
syllogism. It is the vital principle of demonstration, the con- 
necting link by which the two extreme terms are attached to 
one another. In the theory of applied logic, whose object is 
to bring the order of thought into complete parallelism with 
the order of things, the middle term through which a fact is 
demonstrated answers to the cause through which it exists. 
According to our notions, only two terms, antecedent and 
consequent, are involved in the idea of causation ; and causa- 
tion only becomes a matter for reasoning when we perceive 
that the sequence is repeated in a uniform manner. But 
Aristotle was very far from having reached, or even suspected, 
this point of view. A cause is with him not a determining 
antecedent, but a secret nexus by which the co- existence of 
two phenomena is explained. Instead of preceding it inter- 
cedes ; and this is why he finds its subjective counterpart in 
the middle term of the syllogism. Some of his own examples 
will make the matter clearer. Why is the moon eclipsed .-* 
Because the earth intervenes between her and the sun. Why 
is the bright side of the moon always turned towards the sun } 
Because she shines by his reflected light (here light is the 
middle term). Why is that person talking to the rich man .'' 
Because he wants to borrow money of him. Why are those 
two men friends .-' Because they have the same cnemy.^ 

' De An., III., vi., sub in., taken together with Anal. Post., I., vi. 
* Anal. Post., I., xxxiv. ; II., ii. 


Aristotle even goes so far as to eliminate the notion of 
sequence from causation altogether. He tells us that the 
causes of events are contemporary with the events themselves ; 
those of past events being past ; of present events, present ; 
and of future events, future. ' This thing will not be because 
that other thing has happened, for the middle term must be 
homogeneous with the extremes.' ' It is obvious that such a 
limitation abolishes the power of scientific prediction, which, 
if not the only test of knowledge, is at any rate its most valu- 
able verification. The Stagirite has been charged with trust- 
ing too much to deductive reasoning ; it now appears that, on 
the contrary, he had no conception of its most important 
function. Here, as everywhere, he follows not the synthetic 
method of the mathematician, but the analytic method of the 
naturalist. Finally, instead of combining the notions of cause 
and kind, he systematically confuses them. It will be 
remembered how his excellent division of causes into material, 
formal, efficient, and final, was rendered nugatory by the 
continued influence of Plato's ideas. The formal cause always 
tended to absorb the other three ; and it is by their complete 
assimilation that he attempts to harmonise the order of 
demonstration with the order of existence. For the formal 
cause of a phenomenon simply meant those properties which 
it shared with others of the same kind, and it was by virtue of 
those properties that it became a subject for general reason- 
ing, which was interpreted as a methodical arrangement of 
concepts one within another, answering to the concentric dis- 
position of the cosmic spheres. 

Owing to the slight importance which Aristotle attaches 
to judgments as compared with concepts, he does not go 
very deeply into the question, how do we obtain our premises .? 
He says, in remarkably emphatic language, that all knowledge 
is acquired either by demonstration or by induction ; or rather, 
we may add, in the last resort by the latter only, since demon- 

' Anal. Pust., II., xii., p. 95, a, 2i^. 
c c 2 


stration rests on generals which are discovered inductively ; 
but his generals mean defini'tions and abstract predicates or 
subjects, rather than synthetic propositions. If, however, his 
attention had been called to the distinction, we cannot suppose 
that he would, on his own principles, have adopted conclusions 
essentially different from those of the modern experiential 
school. Mr. Wallace does, indeed, claim him as a supporter 
of the theory that no inference can be made from particulars 
to particulars without the aid of a general proposition, and as 
having refuted, by anticipation. Mill's assertion to the contrary. 
We quote the analysis which is supposed to prove this in Mr. 
Wallace's own words : — 

We reason that because the war between Thebes and Phocis was 
a war between neighbours and an evil, therefore the war between 
Athens and Thebes, being also a war between neighbours, will in 
all probability be also an evil. Thus, out of the one parallel case — 
the war between Thebes and Phocis — we form the general proposi- 
tion, All wars between neighbours are evils ; to this we add the 
minor, the war between Athens and Thebes is a war between neigh- 
bours — and thence arrive at the conclusion that the war between 
Athens and Thebes will be likewise an evil. ' 

On the strength of this Mr. Wallace elsewhere observes : — 

His [Aristotle's] theory of syllogism is simply an explicit state- 
ment of the fact that all knowledge, all thought, rests on universal 
truths or general propositions — that all knowledge, whether ' deduc- 
tive ' or ' inductive,' is arrived at by the aid, the indispensable aid, 
of general propositions. We in England have been almost charmed 
into the belief that reasoning is perpetually from particular to par- 
ticular, and a ' village matron ' and her ' Lucy ' have been used to 
express the truth for us in the concrete form adapted to our weaker 
comprehension (Mill's Logic, bk. ii. ch. 3). We shall next be told, 
forsooth, that oxygen and hydrogen do not enter into the composi- 
tion of water, because our village matron ' perpetually ' drinks it 
without ' passing through ' either element, and the analysis of the 
chemist will be proved as great a fiction as the analysis of the logician. 
Aristotle has supplied the links which at once upset all such superficial 

' Wallace's Outlines, p. 14. 


analysis. He has shown that even in analogy or example, which 
aj^pareiiily proceeds in this way from one particular instance to 
another particular instance, vve are only justified in so proceeding in 
so far as we have transformed the particular instance into a general 

Now, there is this great difference between Aristotle and 
Mill, that the former is only showing how reasoning from 
examples can be set forth in syllogistic form, while the latter 
is investigating the psychological process which underlies all 
reasoning, and the real foundation on which a valid inference 
rests — questions which had never presented themselves clearly 
to the mind of the Greek philosopher at all. Mill argues, in 
the first instance, that when any particular proposition is 
deduced from a general proposition, it is proved by the same 
evidence as that on which the general itself rests, namely, on 
other particulars ; and, so far, he is in perfect agreement with 
Aristotle. He then argues that inferences from particulars to 
particulars are perpetually made without passing through a 
general proposition : and, to illustrate his meaning, he quotes 
the example of a * village matron and her Lucy,' to which Mr. 
Wallace refers with a very gratuitous sneer.^ 

However, as we have seen, he is not above turning it 
against Mill. The drift of his own illustration is not very 
clear, but we suppose it implies that the matron uncon- 
sciously frames the general proposition : My remedy is good 
for all children suffering from the same disease as Lucy ; and 
with equal unconsciousness reasons down from this to the case 
of her neighbour's child. Now, it is quite unjustifiable to call 
Mill's analysis supeificial because it leaves out of account a 
hypothesis incompatible with the nominalism which Mill 
professed. It is still more unjustifiable to quote against it 

' Ibid., Preface, pp. viii.-ix. 

- As if Mill wrote exclusively for Oxford tutors, and as if other philosophers 
had not constantly elucidated their arguments by concrete examples. One does 
not see why the village matron should be more deserving of contempt than 
Aristotle's Thebans and Phocians. 


the authority of a philosopher who perfectly agreed with those 
who disbelieve in the possibility of unconscious knowledge/ 
and contemptuously rejected Plato's opinion to the contrary. 
Nor is this all. The doctrine that reasoning is from par- 
ticulars to particulars, even when it passes through general 
propositions, may be rigorously deduced from Aristotle's own 
admissions. If nothing exists but particulars, and if know- 
ledge is of what exists, then all knowledge is of particulars. 
Therefore, if the propositions entering into a chain of reason- 
ing are knowledge, they must deal with particulars exclusively. 
And, quite apart from the later developments of Aristotle's 
philosophy, we have his express assertion, that all generals 
are derived from particulars, which is absolutely incompatible 
with the alleged fact, that ' all knowledge, all thought, rests on 
universal truths, on general propositions ; that all knowledge, 
whether " deductive " or " inductive," is arrived at by the aid, 
the indispensable aid, of general propositions.' To Aristotle 
the basis of knowledge was not ' truths ' of any kind, but 
concepts ; and in the last chapter of the Posterior Analytics 
he has explained how these concepts are derived from sense- 
perceptions without the aid of any 'propositions' whatever. 

We are here confronted with an important and much dis- 
puted question. Was Aristotle an empiricist ? We hold most 
decidedly that he was, if by empiricist is meant, what alone 
should be meant — one who believes that the mind neither 
anticipates anything in the content, nor contributes anything 
to the form of experience ; in other words, who believes 
knowledge to be the agreement of thought with things 
imposed by things on thought. We have already shown, 
when discussing Sir A. Grant's view to the contrary, that 
Aristotle was in no sense a transcendental idealist. The other 
half of our position is proved by the chapter in the Posterior 
Analytics already referred to, the language of which \s prima 
facie so much in favour of our view that the burden of proof 
' That is, knowledge which has never been actuaHsed. 


rests on those who give it another interpretation. Among 
these, the latest with whom we are acquainted is Zeller. The 
eminent German historian, after asserting in former editions 
of his work that Aristotle derived his first principles from the 
self-contemplation of the Nous, has now, probably in deference 
to the unanswerable arguments of Kanipe, abandoned this 
position. He still, however, assumes the existence of a rather 
indefinable a priori element in the Aristotelian noology, on 
the strength of the following considerations : — In the first 
place, according to Aristotle, even sense-perception is not a 
purely passive process, and therefore intellectual cognition 
can still less be so (p. 190). But the passages quoted only 
amount to this, that the passivity of a thing which is raised 
from possibility to actuality differs from the passivity implied 
in the destruction of its proper nature ; and that the objects 
of abstract thought come from within, not from without, in 
the sense that they are presented by the imagination to the 
reason. The pure empiricist need not deny either position. 
He would freely admit that to lose one's reason through 
drunkenness or disease is a quite different sort of operation 
from being impressed with a new truth; and he would also 
admit that we generalise not directly from outwaid experi- 
ence, but from that highly-abridged and representative ex- 
perience which memory supplies. Neither process, however, 
constitutes an anticipation of outward experience or an addi- 
tion to it. It is from the materialist, not from the empiricist, 
that Aristotle differs. He believes that the forms under 
which matter appears are separable from every particular 
.portion of matter, though not from all matter, in the external 
world ; and he believes that a complete separation between 
them is effected in the single instance of self-conscious reason, 
which again, in cognising any particular thing is identified with 
that thing minus its matter. Zeller's next argument is that the 
cognition of ideas by the Nous is immediate, whereas the pro- 
cess of generalisation from experience described by Aristotle 


is extremely indirect. Here Zeller seems to misunderstand 
the word afisaos. Aristotle never applies it to knowledge, but 
only to the objective relations of ideas with one another. 
Two terms constitute an 'immediate' premise when they are 
not connected by another term, quite irrespective of the steps 
by which we come to recognise their conjunction. So with 
the terms themselves. They are 'immediate' when they 
cannot be derived from any ulterior principle ; when, in short, 
they are simple and uncaused. Finally, the objection that 
first principles, being the most certain and necessary of any, 
cannot be derived from sensible experience, which, dealing 
only with material objects, must inherit the uncertainty and 
contingency of matter, — is an objection, not to the empiricist 
interpretation of Aristotle's philosophy, but to empiricism 
itself ; and it is not allowable to explain away the plain words 
of an ancient writer in order to reconcile them with assump- 
tions which he nowhere admits. That universality and 
necessity involve an a priori cognition or an intellectual 
intuition, is a modern theory unsupported by a single sentence 
in Aristotle.^ We quite agree with Zeller when he goes on 
to say that in Aristotle's psychology ' certain thoughts and 
notions arise through the action of the object thought about 
on the thinking mind, just as perception arises through the 
action of the perceived object on the percipient' (p. 195) ; but 
how this differs from the purest empiricism is more than we 
are able to understand. 

It is remarkable that Aristotle, after repeatedly speaking 
of induction as an ascent from particulars to generals, when 
he comes to trace the process by which we arrive at the most 
general notions of any, does not admit the possibility of such 
a movement in one direction only. The universal and the 
individual are, according to him, combined in our most 
elementary sense-impressions, and the business of scientific 

' It is a mistake to translate vlit\(ns, as the Germans do, by Anschauung. The 
Nous does not intuite ideas, but is converted into and consists of them. 


experience is to separate them. Starting from a middle 
point, we work up to indivisible predicates on the one hand 
and down to indivisible subjects on the other, the final appre- 
hension of both extremes being the office, not of science, but of 
Nous. This theory is equally true and acute. The perception 
of individual facts is just as difficult and just as slowly ac- 
quired as the conception of ultimate abstractions. Moreover, 
the two processes are carried ox\ pari passu, each being only 
made possible by and through the other. No true notion 
can be framed without a firm grasp of the particulars from 
which it is abstracted ; no individual object can be studied 
without analysing it into a group of common predicates, the 
idiosyncrasy of which — that is, their special combination — 
differentiates it from every other object. What, however, we 
wish to remark is the illustration incidentally afforded by 
this striking apergu of Aristotle's analytical method, which is 
also the essentially Greek method of thought. We saw that, 
for our philosopher, syllogism was not the subsumption of a 
particular case under a general law, but the interpolation of a 
mean between two extremes ; we now see that his induction 
is not the finding of a law for the particular phenomenon, but 
its analysis into two elements — one universal and the other 
individual — a solution of the mean into the extremes. And 
the distinctive originality of his whole system was to fix two 
such extremes for the universe — a self-thinking thought in 
absolute self-identity at one end of the scale, and an abso- 
lutely indeterminate matter at the other ; by combining 
which in various proportions he then re-constructed the 
whole intermediate phenomenal reality. In studying each 
particular class of facts, he follows the same method. The 
genus is marked by some characteristic attribute which one 
species — the prerogative species, so to speak — exhibits in 
its greatest purity, while the others form a graduated scale 
by variously combining this attribute with its opposite or 
privation. Hence his theory, since revived by Goethe, that 


the colours are so many different mixtures of light and 

It has, until lately, been customary to speak as if all that 
Aristotle knew about induction was contained in a few 
scattered passages where it is mentioned under that name in 
the Analytics. This, no doubt, is true, if by induction we 
mean simple generalisation. But if we understand by it the 
philosophy of experimental evidence — the analysis of those 
means by which, in the absence of direct observation, we 
decide between two conflicting hypotheses — then the Topics 
must be pronounced as good a discussion on the subject as 
was compatible with his general theory of knowledge. For 
he supposes that there are large classes of phenomena, includ- 
ing, among other things, the whole range of human life, which, 
not being bound by any fixed order, lie outside the scope of 
scientific demonstration, although capable of being determined 
with various degrees of probability ; and here also what he 
has in view is not the discovery of laws, but the construction 
of definitions. These being a matter of opinion, could always 
be attacked as well as maintained. Thus the constant con- 
flict and balancing of opposite forces, which we have learned 
to associate with the sublunary sphere, has its logical repre- 
sentative no less than the kindred ideas of uncertainty and 
vicissitude. And, in connexion with this side of applied 
logic, Aristotle has also to consider the requirements of those 
who took part in the public debates on disputed questions, 
then very common among educated Athenians, and frequently 
turning on verbal definitions. Hence, while we find many 
varieties of reasoning suggested, such as Reasoning by 
Analogy, Disjunctive Reasoning, Hypothetical Reasoning 
(though without a generalised expression for all its varieties), 
and, what is most remarkable, three out of Mill's four Ex- 
perimental Methods,' we do not find that any interesting or 

' For Analogy, see Top... II., x., sub in. ; Disjunction, II., vi., sub in. ; 
Hypothetical Reasoning, II., x., p. 115, a 15; Method of Differences, II., 


useful application is made of them. Even considered as a 
handbook for debaters, the Topics is not successful. With 
the practical incompetence of a mere naturalist, Aristotle has 
supplied heads for arguments in such profusion and such 
utter carelessness of their relative importance that no memory 
could sustain the burden, except in the probably rare instances 
when a lifetime was devoted to their study. 


We have now concluded our survey of the first great 
mental antithesis, that between reason on the one hand, and 
sense and opinion on the other. The next antithesis, that 
between reason and passion, will occupy us a much shorter 
time. With it we pass from theory to practice, from meta- 
physics and logic to moral philosophy. But, as we saw in 
the preceding chapter, Aristotle is not a practical genius ; 
for him the supreme interest of life is still the acquisition of 
knowledge. Theorising activity corresponds to the celestial 
world, in which there can be neither opposition nor excess ; 
while passion corresponds to the sublunary sphere, where 
order is only preserved by the balancing of antithetical forces ; 
and the moderating influence of reason, to the control exer- 
cised by the higher over the lower system. 

The passions themselves, and the means by which they 
can be either excited or controlled, are described in Aristotle's 
Rhetoric with wonderful knowledge of human nature in the 
abstract, but with almost no reference to the art for \^'hose 
purposes the information is ostensibly systematised ; while in 
the Ethics they are studied, so to speak, statically, in their 
condition of permanent equilibration or disequilibration ; the 
virtues and vices being represented as so many different 

x\.,siil) in. ; Method of Residues, VI., xi., sttl' in. ; Concomitant Variations, II., 
X., p. 114, b, 37; Y.,\\i\., su?> in. ; VI., vii., sub in. The Method of Agreement 
occurs An. Prior., II., xxvii., szib fin. ; and --/;/. Post., II., xiii., p. 97, b, 7. 


aspects of those conditions. It is obvious that such an ex- 
tremely artificial parallelism could not be carried out without 
a considerable strain and distortion of the facts involved. The 
only virtue that can, with truth, be described as a form of 
moderation is temperance ; and even in temperance this is 
accidental rather than essential. Elsewhere Aristotle deduces 
the extremes from the mean rather than the mean from the 
extremes ; and sometimes one of the extremes is invented 
for the occasion. To fit justice, confessedly the most import- 
ant virtue, into such a scheme, was obviously impracticable 
without reinterpreting the idea of moderation. Instead of an 
equilibrium between opposing impulses in the same person, 
we have equality in the treatment of different persons ; which 
again resolves itself into giving them their own, without any 
definite determination of what their own may be.^ It cannot 
even be said that Aristotle represented either the best ethical 
thought of his own age, or an indispensable stage in the 
evolution of all thought. The extreme insufiiciency of his 
ethical theory is due to the fancied necessity of squaring it 
with the requirements of his cosmological system. For no 
sooner does he place himself at the popular point of view 
than he deduces the particular virtues from regard to the 
welfare of others, and treats them all as so many difi"erent 
forms of justice.'^ 

Aristotle has sometimes been represented as an advocate 
of free-will against necessity. But the question had not really 
been opened in his time. He rejected fatalism ; but it had 
not occurred to him that internal motives might exercise a 
constraining power over action. Nor has his freedom anything 
to do with the self-assertion of mind, its extrication from the 
chain of physical antecedents. It is simply the element of 

' It may possibly be urged that the fifth book of the Nicotnachean Ethics is of 
doubtful authenticity. Still the dilemma remains that Aristotle either omitted the 
most important of all moral questions from his ethics, or that he treated it in a 
miserably inadequate manner. 

2 Eth. Mc, v., iii. ; Rhet., I., vi., p. 1362, b, 28 ; ix., p. 1366, b, 4. 


arbitrariness and uncertainty supposed to characterise the 
region of change and opposition, as distinguished from the 
higher region of undeviating regularity. 

It is only in this higher region that perfect virtue can be 
realised. The maintenance of a settled balance between rival 
solicitations, or between the excess and defect of those im- 
pulses which lead us to seek pleasure and avoid pain, is good 
indeed, but neither the only nor the chief good. The law of 
moderation does not extend to that supremely happy life 
which is related to our emotional existence as the aether to 
the terrestrial elements, as soul to body, as reason to sense, 
as science to opinion. Here it is the steady subordination of 
means to ends which imitates the insphering of the heavenly 
orbs, the hierarchy of psychic faculties, and the chain of syllo- 
gistic arguments. Of theoretic activity we cannot have too 
much, and all other activities, whether public or private, 
should be regarded as so much machinery for ensuring its 
peaceful prosecution. Wisdom and temperance had been 
absolutely identified by Socrates ; they .are as absolutely 
held apart by Aristotle. And what we have had occasion to 
observe in the other departments of thought is verified here 
once more. The method of analysis and opposition, appar- 
ently so prudent, proved, in the end, unfruitful. Notwith- 
standing his paradoxes, Socrates was substantially right. 
The moral regeneration of the world was destined to be 
brought about, not by Dorian discipline, but by free Athenian 
thought, working on practical conceptions — by the discovery 
of new moral truth, or rather by the dialectic development 
of old truth. And, conversely, the highest development 
of theoretic activity was not attained by isolating it in 
egoistic self- contemplation from the world of human needs, 
but by consecrating it to their service, informing it with their 
vitality, and subjecting it, in common with them, to that law of 
moderation from which no energy, however godlike, is exempt. 

The final antithesis of conscious life is that between the 


individual and the state. In this sense, Aristotle's Politics is 
the completion of his Ethics. It is only in a well-ordered 
community that moral habits can be acquired ; and it is only 
in such a community that the best or intellectual life can be 
attained, although, properly speaking, it is not a social life. 
Nevertheless, the Politics, like every other portion of Aris- 
totle's system, reproduces within itself the elements of an inde- 
pendent whole. To understand its internal organisation, we 
must begin by disregarding Aristotle's abortive classification 
(chiefly adapted from Plato) of constitutions into three le- 
gitimate — Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Republic ; and three 
illegitimate — Democracy, Oligarchy, and Tyranny. Aristotle 
distinguishes them by saying that the legitimate forms are 
governed with a view to the general good ; the illegitimate 
with a view to the interests of particular classes or persons. 
But, in point of fact, as Zeller shows,' he cannot keep up this 
distinction ; and we shall better understand his true idea by 
substituting for it another — that between the intellectual and 
the material state. The object of the one is to secure the 
highest culture for a ruling caste, who are to abstain from in- 
dustrial occupations, and to be supported by the labour of a 
dependent population. Such a government may be either 
monarchical or aristocratic ; but it must necessarily be in the 
hands of a few. The object of the other is to maintain a 
stable equilibrium between the opposing interests of rich and 
poor — two classes practically distinguished as the few and the 
many. This end is best attained where supreme power 
belongs to the middle class. The deviations are represented 
by oligarchy and tyranny on the one side, and by extreme 
democracy on the other. Where such constitutions exist, the 
best mode of preserving them is to moderate their character- 
istic excess by borrowing certain institutions from the opposite 
form of government, or by modifying their own institutions 
in a conciliatory sense. 

' P- 753- 


In the last chapter we dealt at length with the theories of 
art, and especially of tragic poetry, propounded in Aristotle's 
Poetics. For the sake of formal completeness, it may be 
mentioned here that those theories are adapted to the general 
scheme of his systematic philosophy. The plot or plan of a 
work answers to the formal or rational element in Nature, and 
this is why Aristotle so immensely over-estimates its import- 
ance. And, just as in his moral philosophy, the ethical ele- 
ment, represented by character-drawing, is strictly subordin- 
ated to it. The centre of equilibrium is, however, not sup- 
plied by virtue, but by exact imitation of Nature, so that the 
characters must not deviate very far from mediocrity in the 
direction either of heroism or of wickedness. 


Notwithstanding the radical error of Aristotle's philosophy 
—the false abstraction and isolation of the intellectual from 
the material sphere in Nature and in human life — it may fur- 
nish a useful corrective to the much falser philosophy insinu= 
ated, if not inculcated, by some moralists of our own age and 
country. Taken altogether, the teaching of these writers 
seems to be that the industry which addresses itself to the 
satisfaction of our material wants is much more meritorious 
than the artistic work which gives us direct aesthetic enjoy- 
ment, or the literary work which stimulates and gratifies our 
intellectual cravings ; while within the artistic sphere fidelity 
of portraiture is preferred to the creation of ideal beauty ; 
and within the intellectual sphere, mere observation of facts 
is set above the theorising power by which facts are unified 
and explained. Some of the school to whom we allude are 
great enemies of materialism ; but teaching like theirs is 
materialism of the worst description. Consistently carried 


out, it would first reduce Europe to the level of China, and then 
reduce the whole human race to the level of bees or beavers. 
They forget that when we were all comfortably clothed, 
housed, and fed, our true lives would have only just begun. 
The choice would then remain between some new refinement 
of animal appetite and the theorising activity which, ac- 
cording to Aristotle, is the absolute end, every other activity 
being only a means for its attainment. There is not, indeed, 
such a fundamental distinction as he supposed, for activities 
of every order afe connected by a continual reciprocity of 
services ; but this only amounts to saying that the highest* 
knowledge is a means to every other end no less than an end 
in itself. Aristotle is also fully justified in urging the neces- 
sity of leisure as a condition of intellectual progress. We 
may add that it is a leisure which is amply earned, for without 
it industrial production could not be maintained at its present 
height. Nor should the same standard of perfection be 
imposed on spiritual as on material labour. The latter could 
not be carried on at all unless success, and not failure, were 
the rule. It is otherwise in the ideal sphere. There the 
proportions are necessarily reversed. We must be content if 
out of a thousand guesses and trials one should contribute 
something to the immortal heritage of truth. Yet we may 
hope that this will not always be so, that the great discoveries 
and creations wrought out through the waste of innumerable 
lives are not only the expiation of all error and suffering in 
the past, but are also the pledge of a future when such sacri- 
fices shall no longer be required. 

The two elements of error and achievement are so inti- 
mately blended and mutually conditioned in the philosophy 
which we have been reviewing, that to decide on their respect- 
ive importance is impossible without first deciding on a still 
larger question - the value of systematic thought as such, and 
apart from its actual content. For Aristotle was perhaps the 
greatest master of systematisation that ever lived. The 


framework and language of science are still, to a great extent, 
what he made them ; and it remains to be seen whether they 
will ever be completely remodelled. Yet even this gift has 
not been an unmixed benefit, for it was long used in the 
service of false doctrines, and it still induces critics to read 
into the Aristotelian forms truths which they do not really 
contain. Let us conclude by observing that of all the ancients, 
or even of all thinkers before the eighteenth century, there is . 
none to whom the methods and results of modern science 
eould so easily be explained. While finding that they 
reversed his own most cherished convictions on every point, 
he would still be prepared by his logical studies to appreciate 
the evidence on which they rest, and by his ardent love of 
truth to accept them without reserve. Most of all would he 
welcome our astronomy and our biology with wonder and 
delight, while viewing the development of modern machinery 
with much more qualified admiration, and the progress of 
democracy perhaps with suspicious fear. He who thought 
that the mind and body of an artisan were alike debased by 
the exercise of some simple handicraft under the pure bright 
sky of Greece, what would he have said to the effect wrought 
on human beings by the noisome, grinding, sunless, soulless 
drudgery of our factories and mines ! How profoundly unfitted 
would he have deemed its victims to influence those political 
issues with which the interests of science are every day 
becoming more vitally connected ! Yet slowly, perhaps, and 
unwillingly, he might be brought to perceive that our industry 
has been the indispensable basis of our knowledge, as supply- 
ing both the material means and the moral ends of its 
cultivation. He might also learn that there is an even closer 
relationship between the two : that while the supporters of 
privilege are leagued for the maintenance of superstition, the 
workers, and those who advocate their claims to political 
equality, are leagued for its restraint and overthrow. And if 
VOL. I. D D 


he still shrank back from the heat and smoke and turmoil 
amid which the genius of our age stands, like another Hera- 
cleitus, in feverish excitement, by the steam-furnace whence 
its powers of revolutionary transmutation are derived, we 
too might reapply the words of the old Ephesian prophet, 
bidding him enter boldly, for here also there are gods.